My 3 favorite types of manager meetings
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!
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!)
- Opening: Facilitator gives a brief welcome. Invite first pair of volunteers up. (They can bring their prompts/scripts up with them if they want!)
- Roleplay: 6 minutes of improvised one-on-one conversation, based on their scripts/prompts. The facilitator may hit pause a few minutes into the roleplay to give the “manager” a moment to recalibrate.
- Debrief (up to 14 minutes): The facilitator will call “end scene” at 6 minutes of roleplay, and:
- Ask the manager: “How did that go” and “If you could replay it, what (if anything) would you do differently?”
- Ask the audience: “What skills did you see the manager using?”
- Ask the direct report: “Any additional feedback to add?”
Repeat for the following two roleplays.
- Manager A: Your direct report has told you they think they deserve a promotion, but you don’t think they’re ready, because they haven’t consistently been performing at a more senior level.
- Individual Contributor A: You’ve checked off all of the boxes on what it means to be senior. You did exactly what the career ladder says the work is of a senior person. It’s time for you to get a promotion.
- Manager B: Your direct report has asked for an enormous raise. However, you do not believe they’re ready for a compensation increase, as it would put them out of band (and much higher than their peers who are much more effective in their roles).
- Individual Contributor B: You have a job offer from another company for a lot more money. You’d like to stay at this company if they can match the other offer.
- Manager C: You heard from a lot of peer feedback that your direct report is being a jerk in meetings. They’re interrupting others, derailing conversations, and causing the team health to disintegrate. You need to deliver this feedback to your report.
- Individual Contributor C: You’re ready for a promotion. You say what needs to be said, you speak truth to power, you’ve made a huge impact on how much the team has been able to ship.
- Manager D: Your direct report is hesitant to ship incremental improvements to the user experience. They debate ad nauseam each project, and you’ve heard from the rest of the team that this person is slowing them down.
- Individual Contributor D: You believe this company doesn’t spend enough time on quality. You agree with your team’s priorities, but you want to make sure you’re not shipping a low quality or partial experience for our users.
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.
- Opening: facilitator shares ground rules (like “no open phones/laptops” or “Vegas rules: what’s shared in this room stays in this room”).
- Kickoff: facilitator invites participants to share a current work-related challenge. The group can vote on which challenge to focus on.
- Open questions: facilitator opens up the floor for participants to ask genuinely curious, not-problem-solving open questions to the person with the challenge.
- Closed questions can only be answered in “yes” or “no”, open questions prompt a longer response.
- Good open questions aren’t leading, nor do they hint at a possible solution.
- During this segment, no pieces of advice, or statements of any kind, are permitted.
- After 20-25 minutes, the facilitator can signal that the conversation may move into statements and advice for the rest of the meeting.
- Closing: the facilitator asks the person with the dilemma what else they need from this group in the coming days/weeks. For example: chatting more over Slack or coffee, practice before an upcoming difficult conversation, high fives in the hallway.
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.
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.