Who is a one-on-one meeting for? Is it for the manager to shape and guide an individual and their work so it aligns with team goals and direction? Or should the time be totally devoted to the individual — their priorities, needs and growth?
What about team meetings? Are they a platform for leadership to align their team, or a venue for teams to bring challenges and opportunities?
Depending on your background and orientation, you may feel strongly one way or the other. You may even have feel a judgement toward those who either “fail to lead” or “fail to care”.
In my experience, the best supervisory and team relationships aim for a balance somewhere around 50/50, with both the leader and the team contributing to setting the agenda for their work together.
Any time we’re together with others in a meeting, we should be of two minds:
- What do I have to bring to the group that will contribute to our mission? Can I see a risk or opportunity others might be missing?
- What do others need from me? When others bring items that might not have been part of our agenda, our true character is demonstrated in how well we listen and adopt their concerns.
To create this dynamic teamwork requires putting energy into actively inviting everyone to bring their best to the table. Occasionally, a level of challenge is also appropriate. I’ve been known, when seeing an agenda only populated by me, to playfully say to my team, “So you’re all out of leadership this week?” Without fail, when we reflect together, the team has something important to bring I could not have guessed or manufactured myself.
Is it enough to say you care?
Some leaders emphasize their servant leadership by highlighting how they bring no agenda, and simply state, “How can I help?” While sounding noble, I believe this posture alone is a cop out. When we can also say, “I’ve been thinking about you, and I’d like to talk about…”, we much more strongly communicate value and intent. The people we’re meeting with were worth our time and attention, not just in the moment, but in our own time.
Team members also thrive most when they have just enough direction to point them toward something inspiring. Rarely is it empowering or helpful to have no vision or challenge from leadership, just as too much top-down direction smothers the best productivity and creativity of teams.
Every time we meet, we all need to bring our share.
Adjusting the balance
The key practice to bring balance is to expect all participants in a meeting to prepare. Just five or ten minutes of individual reflection is often enough to surface important conversations that are often missed when we all shoot from the hip, simply filling the time.
If you enter a meeting where you or others haven’t made space to prepare, it’s not too late! Simply take the first five minutes to reflect individually and jot down a few notes before talking. You may be surprised how much improved your remaining time is with the simple practice. Beyond the content of the reflections, this practice switches us from a hurried, get-through-it mindset to one with perspective and patience.
This balance is a long-term average, with different teams and seasons requiring attention and energy to shift. Where do you need to adjust?