Being close to a year out from our first facility closure, I have been reflecting on how many changes and adaptations, especially to team meetings, we have all had to endure. In a year that feels like someone snapped their fingers and it was over, life and work has dramatically changed for us all.
Working remotely, attending virtual meetings, internet crashes and much more are a reality we have all been facing over the past year. Never did I think I would have to run a meeting with my students only to end up meeting their roommates or pets due to them sharing a space. I always tell my student staff there is no need to apologize for life happening around them. One thing my students have continually told me is that their Zoom fatigue has only increased. This has left me asking, “How can I make virtual meetings more meaningful?”
Virtual Team Meetings
At the University of Arizona (UA) Campus Recreation, we recently held one of our monthly all-team meetings virtually. The professional staff come together to engage, share area updates, give kudos and remember why it is we love to work in collegiate recreation and wellness. It was at our most recent meeting that Troy Vaughn, the director of Campus Recreation, asked us to reflect on ways we would feel more engaged and connected via our professional staff meetings.
A survey went out and we had the ability to give honest feedback on ways we would feel more connected moving forward. This is an example of the management team ensuring everyone has a voice in the decision-making process, which helps contribute to a positive organizational culture.
“The survey was a chance to see where we want to go as a team and how we get there. I am truly excited to see the results. What I may like may not be what others want, so as a director I need to change the way I do things to meet the demands and needs of the collective who. I truly believe that is leadership,” said Vaughn.
Thinking about how to engage my student staff more effectively, I wanted to see how other directors in our field have adjusted to all team meetings and what their plans are moving forward. Aaron Hobson, the director of Recreation & Wellbeing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Demond Pryor, the director of the Office of Recreational Services at the University of Toledo, and Vaughn were graceful enough to donate their time to answer some of my questions about their professional staff meetings.
Adaptation and Takeaways
“As the leader of the meeting, you set the tone, even when providing unpopular information, remember that your tone and words used.” — Demond Pryor
UA Campus Recreation has not changed the frequency of meetings since the pandemic. Having met once per month in-person, our biggest change was going virtual on the same timeline.
However, Vaughn utilizes a Management Team meeting — composed of the associate directors and department heads — that meets more frequently to help disseminate information among the department.
“We’ve had 129 management Team Meetings since mid-March 2020,” he said. “While only a number, I am most proud of the way we have been able to communicate — even during a pandemic — to all of the staff. It’s not perfect, but the management team does well in conveying news downward. We now find this is the preferred way to communicate to student employees through these messages to respective teams, using Group ME’s, etc., rather than sending an email.”
Hobson indicated his team did not change their meeting frequency either, meeting with his team once every other week for 90 minutes but doing so virtually. Pryor, however, shared they used to meet in-person once per month but have shifted to meeting virtually twice per month.
When asked about the future of the meetings, all indicated that in-person meetings will occur again when safe.
Aaron Hobson said this about his takeaway from virtual meetings: “Our staff is one big family. Like many families, we miss our time in-person together. I think one big takeaway is both face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings can both be effective but should be used selectively based on the content of the meeting. Virtual meetings are great for convenience and quick check-ins while face-to-face meeting is important to meetings where you need to express emotion and requires true teamwork.”
Staying Engaged in Team Meetings
“Make your meetings meaningful. If your staff isn’t engaged you might as well cancel the meeting.” — Aaron Hobson
Staying engaged or keeping a large team alert through a meeting can be difficult. “[My biggest takeaway to make sure to start and end on time,” said Pryor. “This is due to team members having so many virtual meetings, you want to maintain high energy and engagement, so being punctual is very important.”
Respecting the timeline you set with your meeting is important so staff know how long to be attentive for when looking at the screen. “Making sure all of staff members are included in discussions and maintaining an up-beat tone to meetings [is important to keeping the staff engaged],” said Pryor.
Hobson noted they will break up their agendas from time to time with short wellness activities and skill development. Getting your staff up and moving is a great way to get blood flowing and help refocus before moving on to a new agenda topic.
“It all comes back to communication truly – we need leaders that can communicate effectively,” said Vaughn
Staff Development and Organizational Culture
“These meetings are paramount for developing a successful staff culture; allowing time to give praise and recognition for our staff, and reaffirming our mission, vision and values.” — Aaron Hobson
Meeting once or twice a month as a large group can make it difficult to ensure you are actively developing everyone effectively. Now with virtual meetings, we find ourselves getting distracted on what is going on around us rather than what is happening on the screen.
Pryor sets the example. As the leader of the meeting he ensures he is not texting or working on other items while in the meeting, giving his team his full attention. This may be an expectation of everyone, but it is on attendees to ensure they are actively setting the example as well, and something I have struggled with while participating in my own staff meetings.
Feeling “informed, prepared, and developed,” are takeaways Pryor has for his team and hopes that through his leadership this is how everyone can leave the meeting. I often credit Pryor for my desire to enter the field, having watched him co-lead a presentation at a Region III Student Lead-On conference at Purdue University with a graduate assistant, and can attest his mentorship has only helped me improve as professional.
Hobson had another note. “Make your meetings a safe place for your staff to share openly and give input,” he said. He follows through with this by ending each meeting with a section he calls “Aaron it out” where he gives his team the opportunity to bring any questions or updates to the group. We may not all have the ability for fun word play, but we can all ensure the staff feel they have a voice in our meetings.
UA has taken a newer approach to the staff meetings by asking the Inclusivity Work Team to present on a monthly topic to the professional staff. Though not Vaughn’s idea when the work team was created, it was something he saw to help educate and engage the staff while helping to develop cultural competency.
Additionally, Vaughn’s Management Team will run their own meetings with their respective team. “Individual meetings that the management team has with their teams is what [develops organizational culture]. That is what I am most proud of,” he said.
Hopefully, some of these ideas or quotes from leaders in our field will help you rethink how you run meetings moving forward. Virtual meetings will likely become normalized in the workplace. We all need to contribute to ensuring we are using our time effectively.
In-person meetings can help convey emotion or open more opportunity for team building. However, virtual meetings can help someone be more effective with their time, eliminating the need to move from space-to-space, or to work from home part of the week. The pandemic has taught me to not only be adaptable but has allowed me to feel more connected to my family and home life.
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