Take a minute to visualize the last few meetings you attended at your company. How were individuals interacting? Was everyone on time? How were the chairs arranged? Was there a particular voice you heard a lot? One that you did not hear at all? Did you leave feeling inspired, accomplished, frustrated or somewhere in between?
Your answers to these questions matter… a lot.
Culture is “how things get done,” meaning that everything from how people greet each other in the morning to how your desks are arranged represents some element of your culture and affects how people feel about it.
Meetings are a particularly strong example of this, to the point that they can even be considered a microcosm of your company culture. In meetings you will observe cultural behaviors, dynamics and characteristics that are present elsewhere in your organization, and your team’s engagement with them can be an indication of their overall engagement with the company.
Depending on the answers to the questions above, this is either great news or terrifying news. Either way, meetings are such a frequent occurrence in companies that they are a great time for encouraging new behaviors and driving culture change.
Here are a few pointers on ensuring your meetings align with the culture you strive for at your company.
Model target structures and behaviors
Meetings are not one-size-fits all, and neither is your culture. The structure of a meeting should facilitate accomplishing the goals of that meeting, just as your culture should be shaped to align with your business strategy.
While I can't tell you what structures works best for your company and your meetings, I do encourage you to be intentional about it. The format of your meetings sends signals about what behavior is considered acceptable in your company. Therefore, use meetings to model what you would like to see present elsewhere in your company.
Instead of using meetings as an opportunity for a single person to share information (you can do that over an email), meetings are a great venue for exchanging ideas and collaborating over them. Encourage group participation by asking individuals for their opinions throughout the meeting and by dedicating time for questions. By promoting this behavior in meetings, you are signaling to employees that they are encouraged to ask questions and contribute their ideas elsewhere in the company, thus fostering a supportive, innovative culture.
A great example of this in action is the weekly Q&A session that the CEO of consumer lending startup CommonBond hosts every Friday after their lunch and learn. As a company with the core value “honesty and candor,” they dedicate a specific time to encourage participation from the team and exemplify transparency.
Be on time and be present
Meetings can be disruptive to workflows, so the least you can do is be respectful of that coveted calendar slot. Start on time, every time. By being punctual, you are not only setting a positive example for future meetings, but you are also indicating that the company values employees’ time and other workplace obligations.
Related: 4 Steps to Avoid 'Death by Meeting'
The other part of this is to be mentally present during meetings. This is important even if you are not running the meeting, because it sets a precedent and demonstrates that you respect the work and effort of others. You will also find that meetings are a lot more efficient if everyone is actively listening and participating.
One trick is to establish a specific start and end to the meeting, so that people can intentionally be engaged for the time in between. To do this at CultureIQ, we each share a word that describes how we feel at the beginning and end of team meetings. In addition to serving as a mini opening and closing ceremony, it also helps us connect with each other.
Solicit feedback and iterate
At our company we are on the never-ending quest to run better meetings. As part of that process, we use our own culture assessment software to collect feedback after each all-hands meeting, and then iterate for the next time based on the information we received. While meetings will never be perfect, the feedback has helped us understand different perspectives and try out new approaches -- to meetings and broader company practices.
Meetings are an easy target for criticisms. Instead of casting aside these reactions, understand them as an opportunity to strengthen your meetings, and ultimately, to strengthen your culture.