Podcast Feature: No More Boring Meetings!


Elevating Home Construction through Thoughtful Meetings

At LEFF Design Build, the phrase "love is in the details" isn't just a slogan—it's a guiding principle that shapes every aspect of their work, from initial design to final construction. In a recent Women at WIRC podcast episode, Caroline Broderick talks with Morgan Thomas, the Director of Operations at LEFF Design Build, to delve into how the company maintains its high standards and fosters a collaborative environment through effective meeting practices.

Morgan Thomas joined LEFF Design Build with a background in commercial construction but soon found her passion in residential projects. She started as a project manager and quickly rose to manage the production department before becoming the Director of Operations. In her current role, Morgan oversees the company's workflow, tools, processes, and systems, ensuring that every project runs smoothly and efficiently.

A key takeaway from their conversation is the importance of well-structured meetings in the design-build process. Morgan emphasizes that meetings at LEFF Design Build are designed to be highly productive, avoiding unnecessary tangents and ensuring clear objectives and outcomes. By implementing structured meeting agendas and training every team member in meeting facilitation, LEFF ensures that both internal and external meetings are efficient and effective.

For LEFF, the meticulous planning and attention to detail in meetings translate directly into the quality of their projects. Morgan highlighted that clear objectives, agendas, logistics, and desired outcomes are discussed at the beginning and end of each meeting. This approach ensures that everyone is on the same page and that each project phase is executed flawlessly.

Listen to the full podcast episode to learn more about how LEFF Design Build's commitment to detail and effective communication contributes to their success.

Click here to go to the podcast webpage. Find Women at WIRC on any podcast platform.

Listen to the Podcast


00:00 Meet Morgan Thomas: From Project Manager to Director of Operations
The Evolution of Leadership and Team Dynamics at LEFF Design Build
No More Boring Meetings: A Passion for Efficiency
Inside LEF's Meeting Culture: Training, Structure, and Execution
The Art of Facilitating Productive Meetings
Handling Meetings with External Parties: Strategies and Challenges
Continuous Improvement: Rating and Reflecting on Meeting Effectiveness
Open Invitation for Meeting Innovation and Feedback


Caroline Broderick: LEFF Design Build was founded in 1978 and transitioned to Design Build in the early 90s, making it one of the first in Sonoma County. Morgan Thomas joined on as a project manager after working in commercial construction. She's now been in the industry about 10 years, but LEFF was her first foray into residential. Thankfully, she happens to love it.

Morgan Thomas: And then just ended up falling in love with residential and I'm so inspired by the work that we do. So it, it just worked out happy kind of by product was that I ended up loving it way more than what I was doing before.

Broderick: After working as a project manager for a few years, Morgan worked her way up to managing the production department. Now today she's the director of operations working directly below the president and helping to lead the company.

Thomas: So it's like, I like to say it's like high level project management of the entire company where I'm helping with workflow management and tools and processes and systems for the whole team. So it's just an evolution of project management, just a little bit, a little bit different, but still super fun. We follow EOS. So we took kind of that approach on how we were going to structure our leadership team as well. And so we took those assessments and there's two seats. One is a visionary seat and one is an integrator seat. And when we do those assessments, it's very clear. Candice is the vision and I am the integrator. I want to do all of the planning and the strategy and the implementation and she is big picture vision and she's so talented in that seat and that role and she's really good about, you know, speaking on behalf of LEFF and representing the brand in a really strong way and galvanizing the team and directing us kind of where we're going to be in 10 years. And then I take it apart and break it down into all the pieces of how we're going to get there.

Broderick: And Morgan, I love this overview of you're the implementer. Candice is the visionary and that ties perfectly into our conversation today about no boring meetings. It's something when you and I chatted, you identified, you're pretty passionate about, and that was so interesting to me for so many reasons. People really need to make the most out of your face to face time and when you're having those meetings. Why are you so passionate about this idea of no more boring meetings?

Thomas: Well, it's a super integral part of being design build. What we are offering our clients is this highly collaborative team that is working together for the success and health of the project. 

But the only way to really do that is through a lot of meetings. I am a passionate proponent of efficiencies, and so I can't stand when meetings are languishing. We didn't move the ball forward in any capacity because we just got sidetracked onto a tangent and now we have to have another meeting and nobody knows what is the next step or where we're going? And so we really have made a conscientious effort to put a lot of structure around the way that we conduct our meetings both internally and externally with our clients to make sure that we're maximizing everybody's time in those meetings and making them as productive as possible.

Without having clear objectives and a clear structure, it's really easy to fall into bad habits.

Broderick: Yeah. Amen.

And something you said there, having it be both internal and external, that's really interesting because internally you can control semi, somewhat, somewhat how your team members are conducting themselves or facilitating meetings.

But when it gets external with clients, that's a little trickier. So let's start internal though. You know, nobody's ever really taught how to run a meeting except at LEFF, right? You guys include that in your training. So walk me through this a little bit. What does that entail?

Thomas: Okay, so yes, we do a meeting facilitation component to training because most of the seats at left take a term facilitating meetings, depending on where they sit in relation to the project's life cycle. So, most people have an opportunity to facilitate a meeting at LEFF, there's very few seats where you're not.

So everybody gets this training, even if they are an apprentice carpenter so that they understand how to participate in meetings when they when they are invited to them and what to expect when they attend a meeting at LEFF. So, we believe that we do this training for everybody in the company. It's really important that we have that shared language and vocabulary and an understanding of what a meeting really means and what we're trying to get out of it so that everybody can be active participants when they do attend meetings. So we do trainings. We have checklists for how to prepare for a meeting and how to debrief after a meeting that everybody gets. But we also start every single meeting at LEFF starts the same way where we put structure around what we are doing at that meeting. And the structure has four components. We always talk about purpose. Why are we meeting today? We always address the agenda, what topics are we going to be covering in order to support the purpose of that meeting? We talked about the logistics for that meeting. How long are we meeting today? When are we stopping? Where are we meeting? Do we have all the tools? And then we talk about the desired outcomes. Where are we trying to get between right now when we start the meeting and when we end this meeting, what are the desired outcomes?

So I could do one if you want for this meeting that we're having right now. If you want to finish.

Broderick: Oh my gosh, I'd love that. Yes, please.

Thomas: Okay, so today you and I are meeting to discuss the efficiency of meetings and how to make meetings really productive and successful. I'm hoping that we can talk about the meeting prep and meeting debrief and go through how meetings are structured and who should be attending. And I'd also like to get some feedback from you if there's anything that you think that you would really like to hear from me about how meetings should be run.

I set aside a half hour for this conversation. Does that still work for you?

Broderick: Yes.

Thomas: Great, awesome. And then I'm hoping that by the end of this meeting, we've established some really good parameters that hopefully people can take some lessons learned about how to host really successful meetings. And you want to make sure that it's collaborative.

You want to give the people in the room opportunity to, yes, I also want to talk about X, Y, and Z. And then you're like, okay, great. We'll make sure we get to that at some point, and you try to indicate where in the sequence of the meeting you're going to talk about it.

So that there's collective buy-in from everybody who's there, that what they need to get out of the meeting is going to be talked about and discussed during that meeting. Or maybe it's totally a tangent, and you say, as the facilitator, I hear you, I think that's super important. Maybe it requires a separate meeting where we can give it the attention that it needs, if it doesn't belong in the meeting that you have planned for that day, or you don't have enough time.

So we start every meeting that way, where we're reviewing the purpose, the agenda, the logistics for the meeting, and the desired outcomes of that meeting. And you do it again at the end, where you bookend it and say, okay, at the beginning of this meeting, we set out to do this. We're going to talk about these things.

And now, did we achieve our desired outcomes? What are our next steps? Who is responsible for them and by when?

And when are we meeting again next? So that everybody's walking away from that meeting with extreme clarity about who's doing what and by when, and when are we reconvening to review the data again? We really believe that you should never be attending a meeting if you're just going to report on data.

If the sole purpose of the meeting is to deliver information, it should be an email. There is no reason to have a meeting because your meetings are inherently collaborative. And if you are not there to learn from the people at the meeting, get information from them, get decisions from them, then there is no reason to have a meeting.

Broderick: That's such a good rule of thumb. So the facilitator in the actual meeting, what are some crucial kind of elements or roles that the facilitator has? And maybe any other people that are there that makes it continue to stay on track?

Thomas: Oh, it's such a good question. One of the biggest rules for facilitating in my world over here, I really truly believe the facilitator should not talk for more than 20% of the time of the meeting. If you're talking more than 20%, then we need to figure out what's going wrong with your meetings because as the facilitator, you're not there to be presenting.

You're there to be receiving information. And so you should be posing questions and then listening as the facilitator, right? You've set the agenda, you've stated the objectives, and now you're there to get the knowledge out of the room and then make sure that that's well documented and there's clarity about what the next steps are from everybody in the room.

Broderick: Absolutely. So let's look at maybe one of your typical meetings. I'm sure in your design build process, you have certain meetings set along the way. X amount of people meet on this topic, this topic, this topic. So I'm sure design and production handoff is one. That is a big one. I'm curious to know how long is a meeting like that? What stakeholders do you have there? And who's the one facilitating a conversation like that?

Thomas: So we do, yes, we do lots of handoff meetings. The biggest meeting that we have in its transition from pre-production to production, we call the team review, which is probably the closest to a formal handoff. And in that meeting, it is, we call it the beast because it is a beast of a meeting.

They are at minimum four hours long and we're reviewing the entire estimate line by line. We're reviewing all of the contract documents because this is the final meeting before the clients get their fixed price contract with their final set of drawings and their selections and their preliminary construction contract. So there's a lot of content in that meeting.

The designer who's also the salesperson, they attend that meeting. The estimator, the project manager, the site superintendent, myself as director of operations. And sometimes if we can get Candice, cause she just loves to be involved too.

It usually doesn't happen so much anymore, but if she's available, we'll tap her in as well. All of us sit in those meetings. And sometimes we review all of the project documents that has a full formal agenda that it is facilitated by the estimator because it is his meeting where he is saying, this is my package based on everything that I was given from design and everything that I was given from production.

And everybody in the room has to agree that it's ready to be presented to the client. And there's key outcomes for that meeting. One being that we have a contract package ready and then the salesperson designer feels confident about going back to the client.

And we have clarity about start date, material ordering and everything for the project manager and the superintendent to get going to prep that meeting for or to prep that project for a start.

But we have weekly meetings as well, where that same team is meeting in a much smaller capacity just as a touch point on the project every week about what needs to happen on that project between this week and next week to move it forward, to progress it. And so that team continues to meet on that project every week for the entirety of its life cycle until that job is completed.

Broderick: Mm-hmm. And those meetings are not four hours long.

Thomas: Those meetings are 45 minutes, yes. It's not four hours.

Broderick: Nice. And do you have kind of standards?

So the beast is four hours. A weekly meeting is 45 minutes.

Do you have other kind of parameters that you stay within that you have found is the most effective and all the time you need for other types of meetings?

Thomas: Internal meetings, it's easier to control, right? Because we don't have the outliers of untrained players participating. So yes, all the internal meetings have set durations.

And they need to be pre-negotiated if they need a longer or shorter timeline based on logistics constraints. One of the key parts of this too, that maybe gets skipped over a little bit in internal meetings, but we try to carve out the first five minutes for bonding and rapport before we jump into the meeting, right? Like to have that human connection, because so that we avoid doing it in tangents during the meeting, right?

What'd you do this weekend? What, you know, how's your dog? All of those like people touch ins.

And then we set the opening statement for the meeting. So that can take a lot longer. That piece of it is usually not five minutes when you have outside trades and vendors and subs and clients.

Broderick: So you're talking about untrained players. So like you said, there's trade partners, there's clients. Any tips or proven ways you go about maybe reeling in an untrained player when they're kind of maybe taking a little too long, kind of getting off of that, those objectives that you have and that agenda?

Thomas: Yes. And it's a little bit of the art of this piece of being the facilitator. And it takes so much practice and everybody likes to throw you a curve ball that throws you off.

But one of the things I would say is the only untrained player you should really be concerned about is the client, right? You can try to engage them in a way that they understand how the cadence of meetings go. And over time they kind of get trained in how to interact with you.

But you should also be meeting prepping with, if you're including a vendor or a trade partner, you should be prepping with that person in advance of the meeting that the clients are attending so that they know what pieces they're allowed to participate in and how you want them to participate in the meetings.

Broderick: But okay, so Morgan, how good really are your meetings at LEFF then? Do you find them particularly effective and productive compared to other meetings you're in when you're outside or maybe how you previously ran meetings at LEFF?

Thomas: Yeah, I would love to say we're batting a thousand and all of our meetings are highly productive. I think that there's always room for continuous improvement. We do have the parts in internal meetings.

We have everybody rate the meeting on a scale of one to 10. So we're getting real-time feedback of like, was this an eight for you? Was this a 10 for you?

Was this a four for you? Because then we need to have a follow up conversation. And maybe it means like, they're just attending a meeting that they don't really belong in if they're not getting anything out of it.

Or maybe it means that the meeting needs to be reevaluated.

Broderick: I think that's a great approach. So Morgan, any final words of wisdom on this topic? Any other things that maybe you do that we didn't touch on? Anything at all?

Thomas: I would love to hear from other people how they're doing meetings and if they have tips and tricks that they're finding super effective. I'm always interested in how other people are doing this. So if anybody listening has feedback or ideas about how to improve the process, please email me, because I love this topic and I love hearing about and learning about how other people are doing this.

Broderick: Thanks to Morgan for joining me and thank you for listening. 

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Click here to go to the podcast webpage. Listen to the full podcast above, or find Women at WIRC on any podcast platform.

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