My 3 favorite types of manager meetings

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The first time I came across the concept of a “first team”, it was in the incredible book The Manager’s Path:

Leaders who are strong team players understand that the people who report to them are not their first team. Instead, their first team is their peers across the company. This first-team focus helps them make decisions that consider the needs of the company as a whole before focusing on the needs of their team.
—Camille Fournier, The Manager’s Path

At first I was stunned by the idea, but slowly I realized: the meetings in which I’ve learned the most have always been in first-team meetings. Meetings with my peers—whether they were engineering manager meetings, or cross-functional manager meetings—were the primary settings in which I could witness alternative leadership styles, learn new techniques, and find more support.

My former manager Jason wrote about the power of fostering a first-team mentality in this blog post:

Instead of spending time and energy in watching their backs, your leaders can be focused on moving your organization forward. When your leaders have built trust with each other it becomes significantly easier to manage change, exhibit vulnerability, and solve problems together.
—Jason Wong, Building a First Team Mindset

I’ve now seen the first-team mentality develop in a wide variety of settings, organizational structures, and hierarchical levels—like when we introduce manager roundtables to an organization, or suggest that a senior leader introduce a meeting between their direct reports where the sole purpose is to help each other.

And EVERY SINGLE TIME, folks’ minds are blown; sometimes it’s because of what they learn from each other, other times it’s because of the new kinds of news/rumors they hear, but often it’s simply because they’ve found some new support and help that they didn’t know was there before.

Below, I’ve written up a few different meeting formats you can employ TODAY to begin to foster that first-team mentality. I’ve also included considerations for who you might invite, and how you might pitch the outcomes to your peers—I hope it’s immensely helpful to you, and your peer network of support!

—Lara

Feedback Roleplay Meeting (once a quarter)

Who to invite: All managers
(Can be all managers within a department, OR all managers across the organization!)

Outcomes: Attendees learn from a variety of techniques and approaches to navigating difficult conversations. Participants get practice delivering feedback.

Preparation: Choose six people to act out a feedback conversation. Three will play the role of a manager, and three will play the role of a direct report. Share a script or prompt with each volunteer for their faux one-on-one conversation, but instruct them not to share the description of this info with the other participants. (Example scripts below!)

Agenda

Repeat for the following two roleplays.

Example Scripts

Group Coaching Meeting (biweekly)

Who to invite: 6-8 managers of the same level/amount of experience
(This meeting is even better if it’s cross-functional!)

Outcomes: A stronger bond/network of support between participants.

Preparation: Invite participants to bring current work-related challenges they’re working through.

Agenda

Note: Wherewithall offers facilitated group coaching meetings as a service, called Manager Roundtables!

Managers Demos Meeting (once a month)

Who to invite: All managers within a department, or subset of an organization.

Outcomes: High-fives, mutual support, and an understanding of what other managers within your organization are currently working on.

Preparation: Invite each manager to bring along one thing to demo from their week! It could be an email or document they wrote, a technique they learned, a new hack they found (calendar hacks are often a favorite), or a thing they shipped.

Agenda

Go around the room and invite each participant to demo one thing they learned, shipped, or worked on recently. Though it might feel silly, applaud after each person shares!

Managers often don’t have other opportunities to share or demo what they’re working on—use this as an opportunity to build each other up, learn from each other, and shine a light on the work that’s otherwise fairly invisible.

Lara Hogan

Author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry.