The Why Of Meetings

Let me just say what all of us believe: meetings suck.

Yet we’re all going to meetings. For most of us, meetings get in the way of us getting actual work done. Often, meetings are not helping us move the ball forward. Even though brilliant folks like Gina Trapani and Chris Brogan have talked about how setting a decent agenda matters, what passes as “communication” in most meetings is nothing more than people talking AT each other, not being clear how to create more value because we’re together.

We need a better why. We should come to meetings to create. Or rather, to co-create, what will work, what will help us, to achieve, to grow, and to get out of stuckness. Co-creating when we’re driving new products or solutions or seeking a new market or just fixing a customer issue…all the things that help to win in the marketplace…that is not a function of a role or a department; it is a way we work. And meetings are a way we can do that. We should use meetings to productively engage ideas to make them bigger, and better. We should have meetings to produce a deeper understanding of issues at hand. When we make a decision, we should know not only what we decided, but why that decision makes sense. Because when we know the why, we can align all of our other decisions around it. Then, we’ll have momentum. That would lead to some serious kick-ass-ness. So, we ought to define our why of meetings to be the places we come together to co-create kick-ass outcomes.

But that’s not what we do today. We organize meetings to tell people things we could have told them in an email. We go to meetings cause people expect us to. When we set up meetings, we don’t get clear on why we’re meeting. In groups, we fire different opinions around a room with little structure to productively move any action forward. Quite often, dialogue is dysfunctional – meaning that it doesn’t produce a deeper understanding of each other or issues at hand. Eventually, when a decision must be made, it’s often the person who has spoken the loudest, longest, or with the most conviction that wins – whether it was the best idea or not. Meetings today are mostly about: to tell, or be told.

Just the thought of a meeting makes any of us want to write: (sigh). Or, even, ugh.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, does it?

Let’s raise the bar. Could we? You and I. Let’s not tell anyone, or talk about it, ad nauseam. Let’s just do it. Shall we? If you’re in, I’m in.

How about we start with what we each bring to it:

Listening. Did I truly hear what the other person(s) said? Can I repeat it in their words, not my own? Am I showing I’m listening by putting down the devices? Did I probe for clarification when things weren’t clear? Am I ready to hear multiple forms of intelligence, not just my preferred mode?

Contribution. Did I come prepared to know more, be changed, and create? What could I do next time? How about I arrive at more questions or do some homework to get privately coached in something I need to bone up on? How about when I lead the next meeting, I name the outcome ahead of time so people can know?

Respecting. Did I show respect for others’ opinions – even if I didn’t agree with them? Did I ask how someone came to that understanding? Did I get the backstory? Becuase then maybe I would be understanding why they see the world or issue in that particular way?

Suspending. Did I suspend my own opinions long enough to create an opening for new perspectives? When someone disagreed with me, did I ask questions, or jump right in arguing? Did I build a bridge over points of disagreement that sets context?

Voicing. Did I say what I truly thought and felt in a responsible way? Do I speak up even when the group didn’t seem to welcome it knowing that diversity of opinion can lead to more learning and a better solution? 

Wouldn’t that make meetings suck less? How about we change meetings to a forum to create — to change and be changed. Let’s experiment with how we do this, because it’s important. Let me know how you do, and I will too.

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