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Things university leaders dread most about the new academic year. Part 2. Senior Management Meetings.

by Susie Hills | Aug 23, 2017 | Strategy & Transformation

With summer fading and only a few weeks before the new academic year, University leaders may be experiencing mixed emotions.

It’s tough at the top of universities – from stories about VC pay to news of declining overseas students and reports of EU research funding slowing – there is a lot to be concerned about.

But it’s often rather more mundane issues that fill leaders with dread, such as…

Senior Team meetings

  • Do you see an hour-long (or longer?) meeting in your diary – perhaps on a Monday morning – labelled Senior team meeting and feel a sense of resignation?
  • Do you know that the meeting isn’t really working but feel that that it’s essential?

Stop! You are the leader and if you can’t change if who can?

You are not alone in dreading senior team meetings. Many leaders dread this type of meeting and many of their team dread them too. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Try these 8 steps.


Step 1: Analysis.

  • The first step to changing things is to take a long hard (honest) look at what happens in those meetings. Ask yourself:
  • Why do I dread this?
  • What happens before and after the meeting?
  • Does the agenda work?
  • What information is shared?
  • What decisions are made?
  • Who makes the meeting better (or worse) and what do they do?
  • What could you do better?

Aim to get a clear view in your mind as to what is working and not working from your perspective.


Step 2. Stop.

One of my favourite actions is to simply cancel the meeting for a period of time and see what happens.

Does anyone complain? Who and why? Does information flow anyway? How are decisions made without that meeting?

Once you see what problems emerge without the meeting, then you know why the meeting is really needed and you can set an appropriate agenda and decide how frequently you need the meeting. Try it, you may be surprised by how effective this is, and how it aids your thinking.


Step 3. Ask.

Before you shape up that agenda and book the meetings back in the diary seek the views of those who attend. Ask those who come to the meeting what works, and doesn’t work, for them. Ask them:

– What they think of the current meeting structure, duration, and frequency? – What the meeting is needed for? – What information should be shared and what decisions should be made? – How frequently they think it is needed? – What they need to see on the agenda. – How long they think the meeting should last?


Step 4. Design.

Design the new meeting with thought. Don’t allow it to simply pop back in the old slot for the old length of time in the old room. A room change can send a signal and be surprisingly effective. A regular room change prevents people settling into patterns.

Decide on the frequency of meeting and its length and don’t be afraid of varying it.

You might find that you want a short meeting every week for information sharing but that you make it longer once a month for a more detailed discussion on a key topic.


Step 5. Set the agenda.

Think about the agenda with care. Will you have a rolling agenda or set the agenda each time. How can you ensure that all the key topics are covered? How will colleagues put something on the agenda? Will you sign off agenda items or will your PA put them on automatically?

Split the agenda by items for information, or decision. Make sure agenda items that require a decision are earlier on the agenda than other items. Put timings next to items to help you keep on track.


Step 6. Preparation.

Do you want your team to prepare anything for the meeting? Let them know. There is nothing worse than colleagues scribbling their update in the meeting whilst not listening to others giving theirs.

If you want colleagues to give a short update, let them know and ask them to prepare it prior to the meeting. That way if they cannot attend then they can pass it to a colleague to update on their behalf.


Step 7. Chair well.

All meetings need a good chair. This does not have to be you. Rotating the Chair may be a good option with a senior team – this allows the dynamics to feel fresh and may help everyone to feel they have a voice. Whoever is in the chair must focus on keeping the group on track with the agenda, enabling everyone to contribute and steering the meeting towards decisions where required.

Just because you have a group of senior managers doesn’t mean that you (or they) have the skills of good chairmanship. If you know you aren’t a strong Chair get some coaching it’s an important skill to strengthen. Don’t avoid it, don’t dread it, get some coaching and then embrace it. It may be worth getting meetings management training for all leaders in your institution as a matter of course.


Step 8. Take useful notes.

How do you currently document your senior team meeting? Formal minutes? Who takes them? What form do they take?

At most universities, senior management meetings have quite formal minutes. The reality is that that few people read or refer to them until the start of the next meeting. Then they are scanned hurriedly, and any outstanding actions discussed in embarrassed and ill-prepared ways.

Far better to have simple action notes which list the key information points shared and by whom (for the benefit of those who did not attend) and decisions made with names and deadlines next to them. This can be done in a tabular form and then the actions can be ticked off prior to the next meeting.

Ask whoever is taking notes and administering the meeting to require each member of the team to report to them on their action points prior to the meeting so that anything outstanding can be added to the agenda of the next meeting as necessary. Ensure that the administrator briefs the Chair as to the actions and anything to be discussed. Don’t let the review of action points take up time in the meeting.

With these 8 steps you can redesign your senior team meetings. Halpin works with clients to redesign their meetings structures and offers coaching in chairing meetings. Contact us if we can help.