Getting MSP staff meetings right


It’s been in the headlines everywhere. People have even written books about the giant waste of time that meetings are. They’ve shortened them to “stand-up meetings,” “morning roll call,” or “scrum” and just to remind people that they really don’t want to be there and how much time they are wasting they make them stand up for the whole thing. Books have been written titled with words like, “meetings suck,” or “death by meeting.” Yes, meetings really have a bad reputation. Certainly, meetings can be overdone. If they become too frequent then they eat into productivity and serve as a crutch for poor employee management. But they do not have to be this way. I don’t care what they say. Meetings are essential for keeping the staff of MSPs on track and if you have a distributed workforce, your corporate identity together too. In my business and in a growing number of businesses, all of the employees work from their home office and client locations. But even if your business has an office that everyone works from day in and day out, scheduling all-staff meetings can actually save you from meeting fatigue and help you build your team.

For MSPs, and my MSP business specifically, our weekly staff meetings are critical to our success. Why is it that some think meetings are a terrible waste while for some of us those meetings are the glue that holds the company together?

Meetings as the glue that binds

Don't hate meetings
Meetings done well can be the glue that binds your company together. All companies struggle to find their identity and to get employees to adopt that identity. Meetings can be that conduit to bring everyone together. Stick with me here and see how we’ve done this.

In my MSP, there are two kinds of meetings.

  1. All staff client review meeting. Three hours. A once-every-other-week breakfast meeting.
  2. All staff training meeting. Four hours. A once-every-other-week technical training over dinner.

These are the only meetings we have. That totals four meetings a month. One week it’s a morning meeting. The next week it’s an evening meeting. If you over-schedule your staff then that is when meeting fatigue builds and the hatred of meetings begins. We don’t do that.

Each meeting has a purpose but it is loosely structured. The purpose of the meeting is known. The “loosely” part is the glue that binds. Thinking of meetings as dual purpose, staff cohesion and productive, has an interesting effect. People actually like them.

Client-review meetings

As a consulting firm, our client-review meetings are held on Tuesday mornings. Tuesday is a nice day because it isn’t Monday. You know what I mean. Monday can be hectic when issues that cropped up over the weekend and were held by your supported user-base can flood in. Hopefully, not all of your Mondays are hectic but we avoid them just in case. Tuesdays are generally always days of calm.

The client-review meeting is a time for talking about what’s happening with a selected group of clients. When we were smaller we reviewed every client. Now we review select groups of them. The group of clients selected changes with each meeting. The group selected includes clients represented by different members of the staff. That way everyone has a responsibility to be prepared although we do not announce which clients are going to be reviewed in advance. This means that your staff members know that they had better be ready to be called upon to report the status of any client.

You probably also don’t want to be the last person to arrive for the meeting. My staff can be brutal to the last to arrive. Excuses are not tolerated well by them. Inevitably the last person uses the excuse that traffic was heavy. Since we’re all coming to the meeting from somewhere and since they are all on good terms there’s always some ribbing about how “I managed to get here and I come farther than you, dude.”

And so the meeting begins.

“Dave, please tell us what’s happening with Acme Industries.” Dave will report on what’s been done there recently. What the client is thinking of doing in the future. How their business seems to be going. Outstanding issues that he’s working on and he might ask for advice on how to address a particular issue.

As this is a meeting of peers. There’s a good amount of poking at each other like siblings, talk about the latest Marvel movie, maybe a bit of sports talk, maybe a bit of new music talk. There will be some griping about clients. The frustration expressed about a challenging technical problem. Jokes told. There will be some cases of, “Hey I have a client with that same problem” or “I solved that problem for another client.” There will be some munching of bagels. We move on to the next client review.

We keep anything negative to a minimum and the manager’s role is to let the venting and chatter occur but keep it under control. Let the conversation veer into Marvel briefly and then bring it back then move on to the next client.

The glue that binds all MSPs is laid in these meetings. Talk about common interests. Good-natured discussion and general light atmosphere mixed with a hardcore understanding of the clients’ needs brings everyone together to the common goal of providing great service and it keeps us all on the same page.

In addition, as we assign projects and others report progress on those projects for their group of clients if your progress is less it is going to stand out. We aren’t a group to call that out during the meeting but it quickly becomes obvious when you are in a group of your peers. A self-leveling occurs. The weaker members step up to get closer to the stronger members of the team.

Staff-training meetings

MSPs
On the opposite Tuesday evening, we meet for technical training and dinner. We meet in our conference room at the end of the day and the company brings in dinner for everyone. These meetings are held from 4-8 p.m. We’ll get carryout from a local restaurant or sometimes pizza but we try to make it something a bit nicer than pizza since they are missing dinner at home.

If you’ve been in IT for a long time you can think of these as a corporate version of the user group. The purpose of this meeting is to make sure that our technical staff stays current with new technology. We will pick a topic, work together through online training courses, view webinars and go through virtual labs. There is frequent stopping of the online sessions for discussion between the techs about the impact of something that was just presented or the meaning of it. Sometimes we’ll get deep into one topic for several sessions and sometimes it’s a new topic each week. We try out the things we’ve learned in test environments and we banter about how we’re going to use this new technology to benefit clients, what our standards should be and who will be the first client to use it in production. We decide together which new technology we should deep dive into next.

These training sessions are another bonding experience. There’s nothing like eating together around a table with light chit-chat to bring a group together. It’s also a great experience to be in a learning environment with a bunch of other very bright people.

MSPs and other IT businesses can’t build teams without meetings

All good professional IT techs like to learn, so coming to these meeting fulfills many needs — social, learning, and professional development. All employees have these basic needs that contribute to their job satisfaction levels. Between these two meetings, employees get to show their competence, contribute to the knowledge base of the company, help plan future technology implementations, develop social relationships with their peers and expand their knowledge too. The end result is a win-win for the company and for the employee. For MSPs — and all other IT-based firms — meetings don’t have to be terrible. They can be a very productive use of time — particularly when they serve multiple purposes.

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