Staff Meetings: Trial & Error Until it Works

The importance of iteration in improving communication with staff

6 February, 2023

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a good system in place, a common frustration at workplaces is around the time cost and perceived value of staff meetings. Just utter the word ‘meeting’ and you feel the weight of the room sigh with dread. I can think of countless occasions when I’ve walked out of an 8am staff meeting at 8.11am without any new or relevant information. And don’t even get me started on whole staff emails.

In this article, I want to share an example from a book called ‘Lost & Founder’ by Moz founder, Rand Fishkin. It outlines the frustrations that his startup company faced when managing project planning and I reckon it's got a pretty clear take-away that us teachers could learn from. 

Basically, as his company grew in size, communication between individuals and teams became increasingly complicated. How could information be shared in a timely and relevant manner? How could multiple teams have their say? How could people stay in the loop without feeling overwhelmed by the growing number of projects?

It turned out to be quite the rigmarole and a giant process of trial and error to find a solution that worked. Take a deep breath, here’s a brief snapshot:

  • Early days communication through sporadic meetings, hallway chats and the odd email thread - Worked for the founder but not the growing team.

  • Trial of a range of project management systems - Limited uptake and consistency across the team.

  • Cross-team projects - Constant interruptions. 

  • Quarterly all-hands meetings (whole company four times per year) - Still wanted more regular communication about projects.

  • Weekly all-staff email updates sent out by all the teams - Flooding of emails.

  • Project manager to collate team reports to send in a huge Friday email - Didn’t scale and wasn’t user-friendly.

  • Externally-facilitated quarterly planning meetings between teams over multiple days - Overcomplicated and too long.

  • Internally-facilitated quarterly planning meetings between teams, reduced to one and a half days in length - Still too complicated.

  • Reorganisation of the company into functional business units where teams had full ownership of their projects and were able to just get on with their work - Success!

And that was the condensed version of what they went through! The reorganisation of the company proved to be the solution they needed. It dramatically reduced feelings of frustration and overwhelm caused by information overload. It increased the autonomy of each team, allowing them more time and capacity to focus on what they needed to do.

Now I’m sure that no one at Moz wanted to go through this rigmarole - like anyone, they would have just wanted their system to work out straight away. But when are things in life ever straight-forward?

What I appreciate about this example, is the desire to improve the process to make it something that worked for the staff. And I reckon this is the approach that we too can apply in schools. If staff meetings or other communication methods aren’t working for people, then we need to make changes. Where would Moz be today if they still relied on sporadic meetings and hallway catch-ups?

Take some time now to consider how communication with staff looks at your school. Is it done in a time and place that suits people? Does everyone have a voice? Is information relayed clearly? Does everyone have a shared understanding of the school’s priorities? Are teachers comfortable with the methods and frequency of communication?  

Jot down any possible issues that leap to mind. If you’re not sure, you might need to take some time to check in with your colleagues or observe their behaviour next time you have a meeting. 

Now, ideate. Yourself, your peers, the wider staff. What are some possible solutions, alternatives and approaches that could address these issues? It’s important here not to rule out any ideas or hold back suggestions out of fear of being contrary to ‘the way it has always been’.

Most importantly though, take action. Pick one of those ideas and give it a go! Nothing is ever going to change without taking the first step. Think of all the cumulative hours you could save each staff member by making your meetings more efficient. Think of the difference to people’s happiness you could make by tweaking the way you communicate. It would be worth it.

Trial & error isn’t just for our students. It’s a tool for us to use too.

If you’re ready to take the leap and make some changes, find more practical ideas here in Make Meetings Work: Change up your staff meetings to make them more effective for everyone 

As always,

Be purposeful teachers
Who are in control
Feel inspired
And know they’ve done enough.