A dangerous metastatic cancer in organizations ( no apologies for the strong language) is the equating of ‘team’ and ‘meeting’.
One of the most toxic practices in organisational life is equating ‘team’ and ‘team meeting’. You could start a true transformation by simply splitting them as far apart as you can and by switching on the team permanently. In a perfect team, ‘stuff happens’ all the time without the need to meet. Try the disruptive idea ‘Team 365’ to start a small revolution.
In our minds, the idea that teams are something to do with meetings is well embedded. And indeed, teams do meet… But ‘the meeting’ has become synonymous with ‘the team’. Think of the language we often use. If there is an issue or something that requires a decision and this is discussed amongst people who belong to a team, we often hear things such as, “let’s bring it to the team”. In fact, what people mean really is, “let’s bring it to the meeting. Put it on the agenda.” By default, we have progressively concentrated most of the ‘team time’ in ‘meeting time’. The conceptual borders of these two very different things have become blurred. We have created a culture where team equals meetings equals team. And this is disastrous.
As a consequence of the mental model and practice that reads ‘teams = meeting = teams’, the team member merely becomes an event traveller (from a few doors down or another country?). These team travellers bring packaged information, all prepared for the disclosure or discussion at ‘the event’.
Once the package is delivered, the information downloaded and the decision made (if lucky), the concept of team membership and its intensity fade. The sense of belonging has been hijacked by the meeting itself. And so, after the meeting, there is a void, waiting to be filled by the next call for items for the next agenda.
Imagine now the opposite scenario, where the concept of membership is one of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And that this is when ‘the real stuff happens’, not at the meetings!
In ‘team 365’ mode, the meeting is an occasional event, something that happens when needed. It’s not the centre of activity for the team. Instead, the emphasis is on the team as a continuous collaboration structure. The meeting is merely a device for occasional needs. Literally, Team 365 is always meeting, so it doesn’t really need to meet. Well, almost.
PS for those on the ‘of course the team is more than the meeting’, do a friendly health check of what happens in real life.
(from Disruptive Ideas, book, and Accelerator)
This is a good insight, but I think it depends crucially on what options for unscheduled, person-to-person interaction are available for the team members. On the one hand, if everyone is located on the same corridor and if people are usually at the office at the same time — perhaps just certain afternoons — then they will talk, drag in one another as needed, and there should be little or no need for scheduled meetings. The team leader can “manage by walking around”.
But if we don’t constantly see everyone else — maybe the team is geographically dispersed across different buildings or across continents — or if some people often work at home or travel a lot, then disconnects are pretty common. And if there is a team (formal or informal) working on one project, but some of the key people have other projects as well, people may focus on the most urgent task (as they perceive it) and lose track of what’s happening in all the other projects — not good if they are playing some essential role.
In the research projects I’ve been involved with around the university, where people travel, keep very irregular hours, work at home or in the library or at the beach, and where people have lots of competing demands on their time, I’ve found it essential to have a team meeting every week (with some people maybe attending via Skype, Zoom, etc.), just to go around the room and see who is doing what, whether they have put in any time and made any progress, and to flush out any questions or problems that didn’t show up in the usual online chatter.
In addition to keeping everyone informed, these periodic meetings provide a mild form of prodding: if you’ve let project X slip completely due to other demands, that may be OK for a while, but you have to tell the X group that you didn’t do anything for them this week. It just reminds people that project X needs some attention too. So lots of X progress gets made the day before the meeting, if not at other times.
I think that these regular meetings actually are good for group morale — they don’t waste MUCH time, and we try to keep it quick, interesting, useful, and maybe even fun — at least, in a team where people like one another, which is the only kind I want to run.