Team Meetings, Debates, and the Power of Bowling Balls

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Teams – like families – can start to fragment when everyone is so busy running in their own directions.

That’s why spending time to reconnect is so important.

Kind of like family get togethers. Friday or Sunday dinners bring families together to chit chat, and vacations give you deeper, shared experiences. Special occasions that bring extended families together – like birthdays and Thanksgiving – allow time to get together, time to reconnect, to debate and talk about what’s important, to work out issues and love each other again.

Proper meeting rhythms in a company should operate the same way.

The Rhythm of Team Meetings

An amazing health tech company I work with recently met to do just that. Because this strong, engaged, smart team works incredibly hard, on so many things, there’s just no time, day to day – or even weekly – to discuss and get a handle on big issues. Our quarterly planning meetings are like family vacations where we all come back together for a couple of days to reconnect, realign and have fun together. We also engineer their meetings to have big conversations to debate the direction of the company and key decisions that need to be made.

In this meeting, we spent over an hour on one topic because one person on the team had a different opinion than everyone else. This key member of the team is often not the first to speak nor to dominate the conversation, so we held the space to more deeply understand his perspective and to flesh out his real concerns. It was an incredibly powerful discussion.

Make Time for Debate…And for Playing Together

When there’s the luxury of time for debate, amazing things happen as issues come to the surface and we work towards alignment. So, we decided to reset monthly team meetings to allow four to six hours to make sure issues are dealt with sooner, and not backlogged by the time we get to the quarter.

After spending almost 12 hours in this meeting, we still stuck to our original after-meeting plan to go bowling. What a riot! Laughter and camaraderie, gutter balls and high fives. This was a family party, and everyone had a great time – even though my team lost when an opposite team member got three strikes in the last frame. We were a competitive bunch but were thrilled to see his victory.

That time to connect and bond and play together, helps to enhance the dynamics of the team and builds camaraderie and trust – and makes the next day’s debate even better – because we’re aligned with each other and the business issues.

And, it’s important to establish some guidelines to help a healthy conversation – to have a facilitator (me) as a traffic cop to make sure everyone gets their turn without jumping in.

There are two key things that help keep a business family strong:

  1. Lots of time to have the right debates, and
  2. Guidelines to have healthy debates so that everyone is heard – not just the loudest voice in the room.

The Challenge

  • For your quarterly planning meeting: yes, you need a good agenda and a good plan, and a facilitator, but the key is to have time for powerful debates with very different opinions in the room, in order to make dramatically better decisions about your business. (That’s why’s you hire smart people!)
  • Make sure you play – not just the typical dinner and talk. That’s easy and comfortable but the benefit to the team is minimal and no different to any family.

High five together, debate together, play together.