How to Set Up an Effective Data Team Meeting

Throughout my consulting career, I have experienced a variety of different team meeting rituals. I will never forget standing in a Seattle hotel room, surrounded by a team of experienced executives, as they banged the desks in rhythm while shouting “WHO’S THE BOSS? ...THE CUSTOMER!” This type of cultural artifact is critical to staging an effective data meeting.

“No action, activity, or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting… this is where values are established, discussed and lived...”

Patrick Lencioni  |  Author of The Advantage

Even with the best technology and data talent available to you, establishing your meeting culture is crucial to success. During my time in the British Military, the front line leaders and data experts’ interaction proved to be critical during military operations briefings. For the data specialists, it was about understanding the mission and all the analysis that had led up to it. For the front line commanders, it was about getting the most meaningful insights to inform mission-critical decision-making. Both teams must ask questions in this iterative discussion to gather as much context as possible and build situational understanding. When trust is built and the teams come together with a common goal or mission focus, you can’t tell the difference between the two parties.

The results of getting data meetings right

  1. Broaden team understanding of future clients, customers, market needs and pains
  2. Identify bias, groupthink, and flawed assumptions
  3. Avoid the tendency to jump to the wrong conclusion because of the loudest voice
  4. Connect relevant data to the most important business challenges and priorities


Set up the meeting

Data meetings need to challenge both data teams and frontline business teams intellectually and stretch both parties’ thinking from the start.

Success in a data meeting comes down to three attributes:

  • Diversity of the team - invite data scientists and business leaders from across the business. Diversity of thought is your competitive advantage here!
  • Application of the right tools - Keep it simple. Data science isn’t scary, but let the experts handle the complicated stuff.
  • Support from leadership - Leaders need to stage the right discussion and come prepared to listen and be challenged.

Data meetings are not like regular check-ins or planning conversations; they should feel different from the start. Teams should be scrutinizing and challenging thoughts, ideas, and assumptions to consider the perspectives of data talent and external players. The best business leaders open themselves up to be challenged not only by their own team, but also by analysts from outside the core team that are providing insights. Senior military commanders will even stage an “alternative thinking team” whose task is deliberately to challenge.

Download the Whitepaper: Top 5 Challenges of Creating a Data-Driven Culture

Align the team to the goal

A data meeting is not about informing the team about a preordained plan.

Analysis and discussion should start by aligning to the business value driver that you are trying to satisfy. Analysis in a data meeting should enable the teams and business decision makers to make better decisions and choose the right options, cognizant of the broader factors at play that may not have been considered. Data meetings should iteratively improve shared understanding, both in terms of the business value driver and data collection, analysis, presentation, and exploitation.


Red flags for meeting culture

We are all subject to bias, emotion and groupthink. If we are gathering data to confirm something (confirmation bias) or let our emotions control the conversation because we have worked so hard on “that” project, then the potential of data is immediately lost.

Recent events such as Brexit and the Chilcott Enquiry have shown how groupthink can be so dangerous and how decisions made by leaders, even at the most strategic level, can be victims of groupthink. Think of yourselves as an “alternative thinking team” rather than executors of a plan.

Teams need to feel safe to challenge and debate issues that have surfaced through looking at data – the days of following the highest paid person’s opinion (HiPPO) are gone in data meetings.

“Operating mechanisms (rituals) are where the beliefs and behaviors of the social software are practiced consistently and relentlessly. They spread the leaders’ beliefs, behavior, and mode of dialogue throughout the organization”

Larry Bossidy  |  Author of “Execution”

Connecting data science to business teams’ decision-making everyday on the front line of the business is going to be a competitive advantage across industries.

Winning here is about team rituals and culture, staging the right discussion to build shared understanding, and leadership coming up with the right questions through harnessing all of the teams’ skills, not simply executing the plan.

Additional Tools for Effective Data Teaming

Here are some guidelines that you can apply to your data team meetings immediately to drive effective meeting culture:

  • Challenge assumptions
  • Identify flawed logic or analysis
  • Assess the quality of the data
  • Identify alternative options and ADAPT your plans
  • Test a plan or a perspective through the eyes of someone outside of your immediate team

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