Foster A Thriving Team Via Better Meetings

How To Foster A Thriving Team Via Better Meetings: An Interview With Mamie Kanfer Stewart

By David Mizne

Meetings are tricky things. Many people hate them, because they are considered boring or a waste of time. When done poorly, they can dissolve productivity and cost your company significantly. When they are done right, they can align the entire team around key objectives. Better meetings can facilitate innovation and improve your organizational culture. But what does “done right” look like? How can the learnings from effective team meetings translate into action?

To answer these questions, I recently caught up with Mamie Kanfer Stewart, Founder and CEO of Meeteor. Below, Mamie discusses how to conduct better meetings and seamlessly integrate them with the rest of your workflow. She also shares her plan for helping individual employees thrive so that the team and entire company can succeed.

DM: Let’s start at the beginning. Do you have a practice for kicking-off meetings?

MKS: There are two different pieces to getting people ready for the meeting. The first is the check-in, which helps people get comfortable and present in the space with others. You can ask something casual like, What’s on your mind? Is there anything you have to unload? Anything you want to share about your presence here?

Some people have shared that they are distracted because their daughter is sick and they didn’t sleep well the previous night. Or they might be waiting for an important client call and may have to step out. By sharing these details they can get present in the room and help others understand where they’re at mentally.

I’ve seen a practice from one organization where they start their meetings by going around the room and asking people how they feel on a scale from 1 to 10. If everyone in the room is a six or lower, they don’t even have the meeting. People are not ready to be thoughtful, productive and engaged, so instead the conversation focuses on why everyone is feeling so down and support is offered.

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One team I work with asks fun random questions like, what was your favorite movie from when you were a kid? This helps people to build relationships and gets them into a positive mood as they’re going into the meeting.

The second thing you must do is get everyone ready to do the work of the meeting. Take a few minutes and review the desired outcome for the meeting. A desired outcome is what you want the meeting to achieve, what the conversation will result in. This orients everyone and is especially important for people who are are running from meeting to meeting throughout the day. There are times when I’ve been in that situation and have forgotten which meeting I’m going into.

DM: You have spoken about innovation, especially as it applies to team meetings. How can businesses encourage creativity in their brainstorming sessions?

MKS: Meetings are a microcosm of your organization. If your meetings are a place where new ideas are welcome, that’s a reflection of your company as being open to new ideas. If you pull in the customer’s needs in a meeting, that’s an indication of the types of products you will create and the types of experiences you will deliver.

If how you run your meetings is not fostering creativity, it will be very hard to do that in other areas of your business. There are two key pieces to effective team meetings that are particularly important for that:

1) Setting norms. Norms are ground rules for the conversation. They set expectations for appropriate behavior. There are all sorts of norms but some are particularly important for fostering creativity and innovation such as:

– Encourage ideas that are big and small alike

– Be curious about the problem

– Put the customer’s needs above the team’s opinions

After you’ve declared the norms for the meeting, you want to embolden everyone to “enforce” those norms. Anyone on the team is invited to say, “I have heard some great ideas but nobody has offered any customer data or anecdotes in support of them. Does anyone have any data? Has anyone spoken with any customers about this?”

2) Keep and share records. If you are following the lean startup model by innovating, experimenting and iterating on learnings, it’s very hard to keep people informed. You are constantly in that learn/evolve mode where you are tweaking things or even pivoting. Meetings are often where information is shared, analysis happens and decisions are made. You need to have quality meeting notes and records so that everyone stays informed. If you need to be in the meeting to know what’s going on, the work is going to move really slowly.

We have meetings where our senior team talks about our product roadmap and we integrate customer feedback to prioritize different features. The decisions we make need to be shared with our developers so they can adjust their work. If it takes three days for those decisions to reach the developers, they’ve just spent three days on tasks which may not matter anymore. Plus, we’ve lost three days of effort toward the new priorities. That lost time is costly, impacts customer expectations, and has a negative impact on the morale of employees who feel like they wasted their time.

With accurate and accessible meeting records, people know what decisions were made and why. They can also see who to reach out to directly if they have any questions. We had one mobile app feature which was 80% done when we shifted priorities. The people in the meeting didn’t know it was so close to being finished. After the meeting notes went out, the mobile lead reached out to me to ask if they should complete it first or switch immediately.

By reading the notes, she recognized that we had incomplete information when we made the decision. We were able to have a conversation and come to a conclusion together instead of her assuming that their hard work must get placed on hold.

DM: Why is it important to use collaboration tools that are designed around meetings? There are so many task management tools like Trello or BaseCamp, what is the advantage to using Meeteor?

MKS: Your day is filled with work you do by yourself (tasks) and work you do with others (meetings). If you want your day to run seamlessly, you need those two things to work together seamlessly.

When you have meetings, next steps are determined and tasks are decided upon. You might also review old tasks that were completed. Having all of this information in one place creates a seamless workflow.

Of course conversations are happening and decisions are being determined outside of team meetings, like on Slack. So we have an integration with Slack that allows you to turn a chat into a task and save a chat as a decision inside the Meeteor app. All of your critical communication ends up in one system, and you don’t have to perform a search through endless chat streams and meeting notes.

Meetings are so much of how work gets done today, so it makes sense to integrate them with your workflow.

DM: You recently introduced your Thriving Teams Program. Can you tell me more about that? What inspired it and how does it help teams thrive?

MKS: Our newest service offering is a year long, fellowship-style, coaching program for an entire team. The inspiration for Thriving Teams came from frustration around changing people’s behaviors when it comes to effective collaboration in meetings.

It’s really hard to change behavior. Many times, there is one person leading the charge to have better meetings. Even if others are on board, it’s difficult for them to learn by osmosis whether that be a new software system or the specific skills for effective meetings and collaboration.

That’s not how teams should work. Everyone should have the experience of developing these skills individually and collaboratively. That’s why we decided to work with the entire team and not just the leader.

The idea around thriving teams came from a desire to create workplaces where the people themselves thrive. There is so much focus on employee productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency, which are important for the business to do well. There’s not enough focus on the human side of work. I am driven to help people feel good about what they do, to feel fulfilled and get good business results. The people should thrive, the team should thrive, and the organization should thrive.

We built the Thriving Teams model off of behavior change programs that have proven when you take small incremental steps on a consistent basis, real change happens. If you go to a one-day seminar on the importance of eating healthy, and you are left on your own afterwards, your eating habits are unlikely to change. But if you visit your dietician regularly and you are cataloguing your daily progress with an accountability partner, it will make an impact.

Our program is designed to have people take baby steps over the course of the year. Every week you do a bit of learning and integrate those practices by applying them to your team’s daily work. Over the course of time, you will have made monumental changes that felt manageable along the way.

DM: The 15Five culture focuses on core values as part of employee performance. We are not just focused on achievements but also how wins were achieved. Does Thriving Teams consider these cultural components?

MKS: One of the pieces of the program is helping teams determine their set of values, because not every organization has core values. And sometimes a team has different values than the company. There might be some overlap, but there might be values unique to that particular constellation of people.

Once you have those values, you have to turn them into action. What do they look like when they are overused or abused? For example, a common value is to respect all people of all backgrounds and all value different perspectives. That can be expressed in a positive way. During brainstorms, you might operate from a Both-And perspective by welcoming diverse ideas.

That value can also be abused by saying that every idea is valid and you should only take actions when everyone is happy or in agreement. You may not want to put anyone down by challenging their perspective, but this does not create a healthy culture of debate that will get you to the best outcome.

Once you have identified what it looks like when your values are in action in a healthy way, then you have to embed that into your ongoing management cycle. That way you can provide feedback and say, You’re doing a great job of living our values. Or, Here’s an opportunity that you missed where you could have acted according to our values and culture. How can you recognize this opportunity in the future and do things differently, and how can I help?

In order for teams to truly thrive, it’s not just about the result you get, it’s also about the way you did the work.

Mamie Kanfer Stewart is CEO and founder of Meeteor, a company that helps teams build a strong, healthy culture where people thrive, grow and achieve greater impact. Mamie is driven to help people optimize their time and cultivate their team to achieve results. She has been featured in Inc., Forbes, Business Collective, and PC Magazine. Mamie is the author of the upcoming book: Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings. You can follow her on Twitter @mamieksLinkedIn or her website. You can learn more about Meeteor at

Image Credit: Krisztina Konczos

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