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Would you please help me decide whether to continue to hold MT staff meetings or to reverse my recent change and go back to the way we ran them before?
 
We have conducted two staff meetings according to MT guidelines. One team member has complained multiple times. He says it is now the worst meeting ever. He says the agenda is confusing. He says the cut off reminder when his time is up is rude and disrespectful. He says that by writing some agenda items in for each team member I am taking away the ownership they feel for their items. He says that the parking lot does not work because by the time we return to the items he has lost his train of thought. He says the meeting was beneficial to him the way we ran it before. Now the meetings are a thorn in his side.
 
He reports that discontent and low morale are widespread. He will not share who else feels the same way. He says that people will stop working on their projects because their feeling of ownership has been stripped away. He warns that by stopping him when his time is up, he will be unable tell me what I need to know about his part of the organization. He says that not knowing what’s going on will get me into trouble with my boss.
 
I am happy to provide more background.
 
Would you please share your thoughts?

jhack's picture

Hmmmm....

You allow each person their 10 minutes.  They talk about their work.  Why do they feel they have no control over the topics?  Are you strictly fixing what they can talk about?  

Is the agenda confusing?  If you follow the guidance, it should be really clear.  This seems like a good topic for your 1:1 with him.  Ask him what he finds confusing.  And then you can have a conversation about sticking to his 10 minutes.  It's rude and disrespectful of him to run over his time.  Make it a skill that you're coaching him on:  how to effectively present ideas / status / whatever.  

And if there are other employees who are having trouble sticking to their time slot, or staying on topic, or respecting the parking lot, then you can give them feedback (if it's simple) or make it a coaching topic in your 1:1. 

Use your 1:1's to find out about topics that folks would like to discuss in the staff meeting, and put their ideas on the agenda, with the person who promoted the idea the topic owner.  Empower them, but own the structure. 

Your goal is to make them more professional, not to make their lives easier. 

Don't trust his grumbling about the morale of others. Is he your trusted lieutenant?   Don't give in.  He's used to running the meeting...implicitly, by running over, focusing at length on his topics, following his train of thought whereever it leads him, etc.  He's now lost that control, and grumbling about it. 

And his threat to withhold important information from you, to get you in trouble with your boss, is unethical or worse.  Not sure exactly what was said or how (this is a little delicate) ...  but you need to let him know that you're willing to fire him and replace him if he is unwilling to discharge his duties. 

One last point:  this level of insubordination is usually a symptom, not simply a response to a restructured staff meeting.  There must other issues driving this behavior that aren't in your post.  Think about it. 

John Hack

poncho_57's picture

 Hmmmm....

You allow each person their 10 minutes.  They talk about their work. 

Why do they feel they have no control over the topics?  I am not sure why.

Are you strictly fixing what they can talk about?  No. I put on the agenda in the key topics from the last meeting. It is their responsibility to add new, cover old or close out old topics. During their time it is up to them to cover what needs to be covered.

Is the agenda confusing?  I don't think so. It is copied directly from the template MT provided.

If you follow the guidance, it should be really clear.  This seems like a good topic for your 1:1 with him.  Ask him what he finds confusing.  And then you can have a conversation about sticking to his 10 minutes.  It's rude and disrespectful of him to run over his time.  Make it a skill that you're coaching him on:  how to effectively present ideas / status / whatever.  

And if there are other employees who are having trouble sticking to their time slot, or staying on topic, or respecting the parking lot, then you can give them feedback (if it's simple) or make it a coaching topic in your 1:1. There are no other employees who run over. He is the only one.

Use your 1:1's to find out about topics that folks would like to discuss in the staff meeting, and put their ideas on the agenda, with the person who promoted the idea the topic owner.  Empower them, but own the structure. 

Your goal is to make them more professional, not to make their lives easier. 

Don't trust his grumbling about the morale of others. Is he your trusted lieutenant?  Pretty much. He is a direct. His directs and skips make up about 90% of my organization. He taught me a lot when we were peers. His strengths are communication and people skills.

Don't give in.  He's used to running the meeting...implicitly, by running over, focusing at length on his topics, following his train of thought whereever it leads him, etc.  He's now lost that control, and grumbling about it. Very telling comment. I had not looked at it that way.

And his threat to withhold important information from you, to get you in trouble with your boss, is unethical or worse.  Not sure exactly what was said or how (this is a little delicate) ...  but you need to let him know that you're willing to fire him and replace him if he is unwilling to discharge his duties. I agree that this is delicate. I agree context matters. Exactly what was said or how makes a difference. Assuming only good intentions on his part, the threat was unintentional. I could assume he meant to say that the change makes it harder for him to communicate with me. I rely on that communication. You said earlier that my goal is to make them more professional not make their lives easier. I agree with that. I am not sure that he does.

I had not planned on explicitly stating my willingness to fire him and replace him yet. Would you please correct me? Isn't that a later stage coaching conversation? My reasoning is that I already have the neon sign on my forehead that says "I can fire you"

One last point:  this level of insubordination is usually a symptom, not simply a response to a restructured staff meeting.  There must other issues driving this behavior that aren't in your post.  Think about it. Good point. I will. You are right. There must be more.

buhlerar's picture

To be fair, there are many ways to do things and there might be things you did before that were effective.  Things like having an agenda and sticking to it seem totally reasonable.  If the prior approach was to let anybody take as much time as they wanted, then definitely don't go back, but you're asking which is preferable and we don't really know what the other option is.

GlennR's picture

Questions:

1. Have you verified his accusations with others who attend those meetings? Conducting an informal Plus/Delta in one on ones and in the meeting will either verify his feedback or prove him wrong.

2. Regarding his claim that you won't get valuable information, can he not communicate with you outside O3s and team meetings?
 

3. How experienced are you in change management? I'm guessing it will take you 3-6 meetings before people become comfortable with the new format. See my blog post here about dealing with negativity in staff meetings. It's not quite your situation but note the steps I took to get feedback. Any time you introduce change, you should ALWAYS include a feedback mechanism (or two or three).

http://www.allbusiness.com/allbuisness-combat-workplace-negativity/16707... (BTW, I no longer write this blog so I'm not trying to drive traffic to it.)

4. So it's all about his needs, eh? (Sorry, couldn't resist a snarky remark:-)

I leave you with my favorite business quote: "90% of all management problems are caused by miscommunication." --attributed to Dale Carnegie.

mjpeterson's picture

...about limiting his time to only 10 minutes.  If your organization has 100 people, he has 90 and your other 3 directs each have 3 people, I would expect that maybe he needs 20 - 30 minutes to cover his stuff and the others are only 10 minutes.  Frankly, if I were another one of you directs, I may also want to hear more about what the other 90% of the organization is doing.  The MT staff meeting guidelines are guidelines not laws or straight jackets.  In general you expect that people in a staff meeting would have similar responsabilities or scope, and such would need similar or the same amount of time to cover their material.   In this case it seems like some differentiation is appropriate. 

mtietel's picture

"His strengths are communication and people skills."

If he's really a strong communicator, shouldn't he be able to adjust his communication style to tell you what you need to know about his part of the org in 10 minutes?

"He says the cut off reminder when his time is up is rude and disrespectful."

Yet his rambling on in the meeting somehow isn't rude and disrespectful to everyone else?

"He says that the parking lot does not work because by the time we return to the items he has lost his train of thought. "

In other words, it's more important that he be able to send the team down every one of his rabbit holes?

I agree with John.  It's sounds like he's used to the meeting (world) revolving around him and it doesn't any more...

poncho_57's picture

You are right buhlerar. Sorry.

No agenda. No published notes. Take as much time as you want to get through your list. Go around the table and each talk about what you are working on. Start late. Only finish on time when key people are absent.

Everyone else prepares a special list  to cover in the meeting. The employee I am concerned about goes through his master list. That is, the list of everything he is working on or tracking. He is consistantly taking three times longer than anyone else. He covers other peoples topics.

poncho_57's picture

I agree mjpete. I already offered him 20 minutes. He said no. He said no time limit would ever be appropriate. He says he needs to be able to cover everything no matter how long it takes.

Like you said, he has a point. The meetings weren't awful all the time. He has a lot of directs and skips.

If he would do two things I would support him going through his whole list.

1.Use the parking lot when he runs over.

2.Never steal people's thunder by covering their update before their turn. 

He specifically refused both. 

poncho_57's picture

First, thanks for your input.

1. I have checked in one on ones. No sign of a morale problem there. 

2.He can get info to me in one on ones. He can come see me any time. There's also email, vmail etc

3.I have less than two years of management experience.

 

poncho_57's picture

Thanks for your comment mtietel.

Assuming the best intentions from him:

-He has no idea that people are put off by his lengthy reporting

-He has never had to filter his content. It is hard to do this well

-The parking lot is new. Change is hard

You are right. He was the core of the meeting before. While he is important to the team, I am concerned about him overshadowing his peers. The meeting consistently running long was also a problem.

piratedave's picture

 A couple of quick thoughts:

1 - The staff meeting isn't for him to tell you stuff.  He should be communicating the status of his efforts during O3's.  The staff meeting is for him to tell the group what collaboration he needs or can offer (sounds like he really likes this part), and what he's heard around the company that would be good for they group to hear.  It's about group collaboration, not about updating you.  If his efforts affect group goals, then he should share, otherwise, save for the O3.

2 - If he really has that much to cover/contribute (and is not just being a blowhard), then give him 15-20 minutes in the agenda.  You don't need his permission.  Maybe give him the last spot if he updates other people's stuff - that gives them a chance to go first.

3 - Keep plugging.  He'll get there one way or the other.  After about 5 or 6 meetings, conduct a hotwash of your previous 5 staff meetings (what went well, what to work on).  Make adjustments based on group feedback (not just his).  This may be particularly effective if other group members are willing to tell him in that setting that they prefer the new way.

naraa's picture

Poncho_57,

 I agree with John Hack´s remark that "there is other issues driving his behaviour that are not in your post!   There is more than meets the eye here.  He seems to be too self-centered and also trying to control you by sort of threatening you and you are buying into it.  He can feel your insecurity and he is trying to use it to his advantage. ("Would you please help me decide whether to continue to hold MT staff meetings or to reverse my recent change and go back to the way we ran them before?", in my opinion you should not even consider it, at least not based on what you wrote, the moment you consider it, you weaken you efforts, I will give my reasons later).

He is probably a high I who needs people´s attention and recognition.  He was getting that by dominating the meetings before and he cannot do that now.  See how you can satisfy his need of attention and recognition from his peers some other way, maybe even more recognition from yourself towards his work.  His sentence that he needs to inform you of everything that goes on, indicates that perhaps he is feeling like he doesn´t have sufficient time and attention from your side.  Some feedback directed towards how his behaviour affects others might also be good.

Now, I say you should not give in on going back to the previous style for the meeting, but you should look into what his comments are really telling you and what you can do to address his concerns there.  He may have some valued points, but his solution is wrong, it is not going to the old style of meetings, but perhaps you can say you are open to his concerned and you are willing to address each one of them, but it won´t be in going back to the old style of meeting because the meeting as Piratedave said is not to update people (and definitely not you) on what each one is doing, is to share issues that need collaboration from others and offer collaboration to other issues, and share status of issues that are relevant to all.

Bellow are some responses and actions you can take towards 

"He says the cut off reminder when his time is up is rude and disrespectful." R: I suggest you offer help to him to try structuring better what he really needs to report to the other people.  See the podcasts on asking for status rather than "how it is going".  If I recall correctly this advice is on the pod cats on running a project drumbeat meeting http://www.manager-tools.com/2011/11/project-management-drumbeat-meeting... He wants to feel good in front of other people and he is not feeling good on you interrupting him.  So help him on his one-one-ones, or even on a special meeting, separate what he really needs to report on the staff meeting from what he only needs to report to you.

"He says that by writing some agenda items in for each team member I am taking away the ownership they feel for their items." R:  This is clearly an indicator of people having too much freedom on doing what they thought was important and now you are directing them to what you know is important.  You can explain to him that you are putting the agenda items because some issues that people work on although important do not show as much relevance right now to the overall organisation of the work.  I once used the visual example of a marble machine (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Z2A6qJyURY&feature=related) to help people understand the importance of timing and how timing and how the finalisation of one process activates other, and why timing is so crucial.

"He says that the parking lot does not work because by the time we return to the items he has lost his train of thought. R: Here he needs some feedback that "communication is what the listener does."  If he old his train of thought, how does he feel the people keep up with his train of thought when he diverts to something that is not on the topic being discussed.  

"He says the meeting was beneficial to him the way we ran it before. Now the meetings are a thorn in his side."R: Ask him to explain to you how the meetings were beneficial to him the way you ran it before.  My suspicious is that he will not be able to come up with an answer that really shows they were beneficial (other than him being able to share with others his accomplishments).  Lead him to find out the answer of what did he do in the meeting before that allowed him and his team to take an action towards his goals, and the goals of the organisation that you are not doing now?

"He reports that discontent and low morale are widespread. He will not share who else feels the same way. He says that people will stop working on their projects because their feeling of ownership has been stripped away." R: Thank him for his concerned with regards to getting the projects ahead but explain to him that people will work on their projects because you hold them accountable for it.  And for yourself only you may want to review how you are really holding people accountable for finalising the tasks in their project.  My experience is that this is the perhaps the most difficult task for managers in the first years (myself included).  It took me a long time to understand really how to make people accountable.  The podcasts on not asking "how is it going" but asking for status and also demanding reporting and actually verifying completion of tasks, assign verifiable tasks, tasks with deliverables associated with them, is the key.  Check how you are doing with respect to that.  Ask yourself the question: "Can people actually say to you they are working on the project without really doing the work?  Or you will know if they haven´t?"

"He warns that by stopping him when his time is up, he will be unable tell me what I need to know about his part of the organization. He says that not knowing what’s going on will get me into trouble with my boss."  R: Explain to him that this is not a concerned because he will have as much time in private as he needs with you to update you on all issues going on in his part of the organisation.

Good luck.  Your decisions seem to be correct to me.  You may need to make some adjustments elsewhere but not on the main decisions you are making.  Choose a path of action and go forward with it, don´t doubt it will work.  It will.  Agree with GlennR, 3-6, and more towards 6 weeks of implementation are required for it to work.  Both for them and for you to feel more confident and natural about it.

Nara