A strategy guide for student leaders by student leaders.
Internal Events: Meetings, Practices, and Socials
Internal events are all events that are reserved only for your members. These include general meetings, practics, and social events. The way that you structure your internal events has a great impact on the operations and culture of your organization.
Internal events cover any event that is reserved only for your members. These include general meetings and practices that are focused on pursuing your organization’s primary goal as well as internal social events. The way that you structure your internal meetings has a great impact on the operations and culture of your organization.
Successful events have three elements in common:
1. The event has an actionable objective and agenda.
2. The event has a specified start and end time.
3. The necessary event logistics are planned and accounted for. Contigency plans for vital steps are also in place.
When planning a meeting, focus first on determining the meeting’s purpose. Think about the potential goals that you may want to achieve during the meeting.
1. Is there a problem you need to solve? 2. Is there a decision that needs to be made? 3. Is this part of continuing training for competition?
Once you’ve identified what you want to get out of the meeting, you’ll be better positioned to identify the teammates that will need to be involved. You will also be able to plan how long a meeting should be in order to achieve your goals.
When planning cadence and duration for meetings, consider these factors:
The amount of time both you and your team members can devote to your meeting given other activities. For instance, meetings during examination periods should be held sparingly if at all.
The length of your meeting should not extend too much beyond the length of your planned activities. If you anticipate a discussion lasting 20 minutes, you may want to hold a 30 minute meeting for other issues that may arise. However, don’t hold an hour long meeting. Not only do your teammates have to plan around this, but they will also be disgruntled that you have wasted their time.
The frequency of your meetings should be optimized to quality not quantity. If your members are not being productive, consider whether you are holding too many meetings or holding them at non-optimal times (e.g. early in the morning or late at night).
The second variable that you need to plan for is who will be present at each meeting. Try to balance between relevancy and diversity. In essence, you’ll want to identify members whose input you’ll need to accomplish the goal of your meeting. However, you may also want to consider bringing diverse viewpoints into your meeting to explore unique angles. For example, when running status meetings for Consult For America, I included both the individuals providing status reports and a couple members on a team for a different client. These “outsider” members were able to provide commentary and concerns that would not otherwise be raised based on their experiences with their clients. While having too many “outsiders” might disrupt the flow of your meeting, having a pair of fresh eyes can provide a much needed perspective.
The role played by “outsiders” is similar to the role played by one of the most contentious team member types you’ll encounter: devil’s advocate. These members often see only the things that will go wrong. Their negativity, while instructive at times, is often unappreciated by leaders and organizations who are incentivized to make projects happen. A well researched example is the failed space shuttle Challenger launch which killed seven astronauts. Engineers had urged managers to delay the launch due to potential issues with cold weather and the rubber O-rings that sealed joints in the rockets. They were shut down by directors of the NASA program. During the launch, the O-rings failed due to cracking in cold temperatures. Devil’s advocates are a vital part of any team but need to be managed properly in order to maximize their value. I would recommend following the below process:
Before any meeting begins, outline the behavioral rules that the meeting will follow. You want to avoid personal attacks and other non-productive conversations. Rules that ask participants to focus on the topics and ideas at hand should be implemented. As my mentor likes to say when she leads her groups, “We’re all aiming for the same goals, so hit the ball not the player.”
Plan to have members who are naturally devil’s advocates or assign members to that role. Members who have horns growing on their heads are good picks.
The benefits and detriments that are illuminated for any initiative should be assessed based on their potential impact and likelihood of occurrence. These assessments should be based on the available evidence not emotion or an individual’s position within the organization. Compromises and negotiations should be expected.
When executing your meeting, lay down expectations and a specific structure at the beginning. While you don’t need to completely adhere to your initial structure, it will provide a starting point to orient your meeting. Once you’ve established a process, you may be able to skip some steps, especially for recurring meetings.
Step 1: General Health Check
Your meetings should start with a general check to see how members are doing. This involves a combination of social and team concerns. Ask about people’s lives and recent experiences. You’ll be able to create an open atmosphere which will promote discussion later on.
Step 2: Starting and Managing Discussion
Begin your meeting by outlining the goals and expectations for the meeting. Once the meeting begins and people start to converse, you’ll need to assume a relevant role. During discussions, you’ll act as the arbiter. You will facilitate discussion and ask questions. While it’s important that you add your own input from time to time, your primary goal as the leader of the team is to promote a healthy debate and act as a referee. Try not to overtake the meeting with your own opinions lest your position silence dissenters. To truly reap the benefits of a diverse team, you want to promote diversity of opinion.
As the discussion proceeds, identify those who contribute and those who stay silent. If a few voices dominate, determine if they dominate due to subject matter expertise or personality. An expert who has much insight to contribute should be allowed more time. However, members who have more aggressive personalities might take over a discussion without adding much value. You want to ensure that everyone has adequate time for input and that your quieter members aren’t being drowned out. To that end, you’ll want to actively transition the discussion to quieter members and draw input from all individuals. You can use phrases like,
“Anwar (a quieter member), what do you think about this?” or “Bethany (a more active member), that’s an interesting idea; let’s see if we can think of other ideas so that we can consider all of them at the same time. Does someone have another idea?”
Some groups will hold recurring practices and rehearsals to prepare for competitions and presentations. During practices, you’ll likely assume a coaching or leading role. Your goal is mainly to provide guidance; however, do not underestimate the expertise of your members. If they provide you their feedback, listen intently, evaluate its merit, and try to adapt. Structure your practices so that there are times when there is group feedback, individual work time, and one-on-one coaching opportunities.
The best practices for all internal events are relevant for social events as well. Plan your event logistics ahead of time – taking into consideration historical social events that were well received and/or member preferences – and ensure that your event is properly communicated. However, the content of these events can afford to be less structured. Your primary goal is to get team members together to bond and have fun. There’s no need to have an agenda or follow-ups.
If a contentious debate arises that seems unproductive, follow one of the following strategies…
Call for a Vote – This strategy is the most democratic and is generally readily accepted by teammates. However, minority opinions are not necessarily incorrect. You will need to make efforts to address these opinions and assuage disappointed members.
Make a Decision – This strategy should be used sparingly, especially if you’re in the minority. There are times when, due to your position, you’ll have more relevant information than your teammates and will need to make a decision that runs counter to the mood of the team. You should first try to explain your view if possible. Understand that you will own the consequences and will need to take the initiative to convince members of the correctness of your decision.
Delay a Decision – For difficult discussions that are not urgent, you can choose to delay a decision to hear from other voices or wait for new information. In some cases, the issue will resolve itself over time.
Step 3: Wrapping Up and Next Steps
Once the meeting has died down, review the points that you’ve gone over and document actionable decisions. Determine whether you’ve made all the decisions you intended to make to accomplish your goal. Ensure that everyone is on the same page. Finally, determine what follow-up actions people need to take and who is in charge of those actions. Decisions and action items should be documented and sent out to the group.