March 1, 2016 |

Team Meetings: Coming Together

By David La Martina

Conduct effective team meetings for maximum employee efficiency


From pre-shift pow-wows to drawn-out management conferences, team meetings are a ubiquitous part of the hospitality and retail industries. While some operators appreciate them more than others –– and even though many employees dread them –– productive meetings are an essential management tool for almost every shop.

With that said, no two pizzerias are exactly alike, and ideal meeting strategies differ from one store to the next. From the mom-and-pop shop to the small chain to the corporate franchise, every restaurant needs to tailor its meetings to its employees, management styles and bottom-line concerns.

A meeting’s leadership can be just as important as its content. “There should be three leaders for each meeting –– an initiator, a designer and a facilitator –– and those leaders can be the same person or different people,” says Bryan Mattimore, co-founder of Growth Engine. The initiator determines the meeting’s ideas, content and focus; the designer creates the structure; and the facilitator keeps everyone on task.

Who exactly should fill those roles? “It depends on the type of store,” says Mike Morgan, vice president of California-based Pizza Guys. “If you own the shop but don’t work it every day, have the onsite manager plan it and run the agenda by you.”

Even if the head honcho determines the content of the meeting, however, he or she may not be the best choice for running the show. “You don’t often want the senior manager facilitating the meeting if you want to get new ideas,” says Mattimore. “People often get intimidated and are afraid to speak up or challenge the status quo.”

Another critical consideration is when meetings should be held.  Too often, and they become pointless in employees’ eyes — but infrequent meetings have little impact on product quality, customer service or morale. Meetings also cost money, and few owners can afford to frequently bring everyone in on their off days.

For most shops, the sweet spot seems to be somewhere between once per week and once per month. “Weekly meetings can be important as you’re building a new team and getting everyone acquainted,” says Mattimore. “Once you’ve built a culture in your shop, you probably don’t need them that often.” Monthly meetings are great for addressing concerns, updating processes and receiving feedback from experienced employees.

Other considerations include the type, formality and specific personnel involved. “You might do shift change meetings every day, but they’re short and focused on sales, cleaning projects and a few other immediate action items,” says Morgan. “As far as complete employee meetings where you reiterate your principles and even have a team outing –– those only need to be done about twice per year.”

Still, meeting frequencies and times shouldn’t always be left to individual shops. For franchises and large chains, “there should be a plan from the higher-ups on how to implement meetings at the shop level,” says Marilyn Sherman, a leadership expert and speaker at International Pizza Expo. Company-wide changes and seasonal sales need to be communicated uniformly, and that can only be done when individual stores hold meetings at the same times.

As far as content is concerned, “First ask what is the objective of the meeting,” Mattimore says. “Your main concerns should usually be morale, ideas to save money, better customer service and generating new business.” Specific talking points may include new products, new service practices, marketing ideas and more efficient ways to do routine tasks.

Fewer items are also better than more. “When you’re putting together your meeting agenda, think about what you want everyone to know, and cut it in half. Then cut in half again,” Morgan adds. “You can’t expect people to internalize several different things, and it’s best to stay focused on the three or four most important topics.”

Whatever topics you discuss during the middle of the meeting, it’s always important to begin and end on a positive note. “You want people to walk away motivated,” Morgan says. The only way to improve is to address what you’re doing wrong, but positive affirmations will maintain morale and encourage workers to give you their best.

Finally, even well-planned meetings can fall flat if employees don’t remain engaged. “The biggest problem I’ve seen is the mob mentality,” Morgan says. “People will voice their frustrations, they derail the discussion, and whoever they’re criticizing gets defensive.” The best way to avoid these conflicts is to establish ground rules and common objectives at the beginning of each meeting. After all, a successful store allows for better equipment, better working conditions and raises –– goals everyone can get behind.

Employees also stay more engaged when they feel their feedback is valued. “Honor your workers’ questions and insights, and address topics that are important to them,” Sherman says. “A great way to hold their attention is to get them involved ahead of time.” Ask people to come prepared with positive anecdotes of customers and peers, and ask them what they want to see on the agenda.

Finally, one of the best ways to boost engagement and provide for more effective meetings in the long term is to gather anonymous feedback. “Put a printed copy of links to a survey in everyone’s paycheck, and have them anonymously tell you how they felt about the meeting,” Mattimore says. “Ask the three most important things they took away from the meeting. Whatever those are, that is what you really communicated.”

Meeting Tips

Short and sweet. Quick tips for productive team meetings include:

  • Lighten the mood. “Don’t underestimate the power of humor,” says Sherman. “The most effective leaders I know are the ones comfortable enough with themselves to add levity by laughing at themselves.”
  • Make it mandatory. Absent employees change the dynamic of a meeting. Further encourage attendance with free food and other incentives.
  • Check in. Reinforce new policies with one-on-one check-ins and smaller group meetings.
  • Don’t delay. Address unplanned issues head-on as they come to light during meetings. Postponed problems will only make employees feel like their voices aren’t being heard.

David LaMartina is a Kansas City-based freelance copywriter who specializes in the finance, food and health industries.