How is it going with your meetings? Really, another one? Is anything really going to get done? Is this a waste of my time? I have too much to do to attend another meeting!!
Sound familiar? To be clear, there are many meetings that go well and have a lot of value, and the opposite seems too often to be many people’s experience. An effective, efficient meeting is a set of skills. There are skills of the team leader and skills of participants, and there are many possible breakdowns in meetings. One of the most prevalent is that the nature or purpose of a meeting gets mixed and off topic with things left unfinished. There are numerous ways to name types of meetings. What we offer here is not “the” way, but “a” way that supports keeping things simple and clear. We recognize that there are specialize meetings for distinct purposes like a sales meeting, and specialized meeting will fall into one of these categories.
Here is our list of types of meetings and their purpose:
The purpose of these meeting is to discuss ideas and possibilities and for brainstorming. This is not where actions are directed or request or offers are made but they allow the flow of the widest range of possibilities. Some people are better at this than others, so knowing who is good at this on a team has value. It is also important to hear all voices, as it is clear it is easier for some to speak up in meetings than for others, and it becomes the responsibility of the team leader to allow all voices to be heard. It is not unusual for the quiet voices to have very creative and valuable ideas.
These meeting are designed to assign actions, to make request, to make offers, and to make commitments. How this is done is vital as this part is the gears and mechanisms to get work done. Questions will arise to clarity, accountability, and trust.
First, clarity. When assigning actions or making request or offers, are the expectations clear? What does success look like? When receiving request, are you clear about what is being asked of you? Do you have a clear timeline, a clear by-when results are needed? For this to work well, there must be permission to ask for clarity of the request or offer, for it to be OK to counter-offer; basically, to negotiate what we call the “conditions of satisfaction.” It becomes important to be able to speak up, to have permission to decline, and to able to receive a decline. As an organization, declining has value and will impact over-work and over-promising which very often leads to lower quality of work.
The skill of being accountable and holding others accountable is one of the leading breakdowns in organizations. It is about making realistic promises and a commitment to fulfilling one’s promise. One possible reorientation is that the promise is not about the task, it is about making a commitment to a person, it is about building a relationship. Fulfilling promises and commitments on time builds trust.
This is when updates and current status conversations regarding projects and outstanding promises and commitments happen. Individuals are reporting, that is the overall purpose here. Per design, that is, by choice of the team and/or the team leader, this time could also be used for making requests and offers related to the report, declaring breakdowns (such as not meeting a timeline), complaining for action, or hearing questions or comments from the team. It becomes even more important to have attention on “straying” in the conversation. Items can always be tabled for later or for the appropriate kind of meeting. If a shift in the function of a meeting takes place, it is important that this is openly declared.
Breakdowns happen, we are human, and we make mistakes. How we handle our breakdowns and team breakdowns will make an immense difference in the overall mood of the team. Process and assessment meetings are not just about the mistakes, more likely they will be around the fallout. What incomplete or unspoken conversations or behaviors are not being discussed? Elephant in the room? Maybe a herd? The team supports clearing the air, not holding “stuff” with other people or processes. Assessments are offered with explicit grounding. The assessment is the interpretation of the event where we will express things like value or aesthetics and are never true or false, never right, or wrong. They are interpretations, opinions, verdicts, or judgements.
These meetings can be difficult for participants which is one of the reasons they are often delayed, or the necessity ignored. I have been in a number of these types of meetings, and are they difficult? Yes, but the outcome of clearing the air and being upfront, authentic, and honest with each other (in a good way) produces a relaxed and open atmosphere within which to work.
What can go wrong in meetings?
Straying off topic is one of the bigger breakdowns in meetings and can produce the feeling that meetings are a waste of time. Another breakdown is the loud voice gets all the attention. This is chronic in some organizations. I worked for someone once who could easily be attracted to high energy, and their listening would lean towards that person at the expense of listening to others. The result was a series of not so good decisions. What becomes useful is to limit how much any one person gets to express their views and to be sure the quieter people are asked their point of view.
These are mostly team leader skills. First to notice, then to reorient to the appropriate conversation. There is always the choice to stay on the straying conversation if deemed relevant, timely, and important to the function of the team.
Diverse Meetings in One Meeting
This is common and has value. What makes this work well is to clearly declare the shift in the type of meeting that is currently happening so everyone knows the terrain being crossed. What might begin as a brainstorming session, once complete, can easily and appropriately be shifted into an action meeting. The important thing is to name the change to allow participants to reorganize themselves from one way of being to another.
The context I am speaking into here is about the relationship people have to their energetic self. Some people are great at getting ideas immediately, what I call “awakening” energy, and others take more time and are “processers.” The processer may not have an immediate response, but given time, their ideas are as good, sometimes better than the awakeners.
When these elements of teams and meetings are practiced, the outcomes I have seen and experienced has meetings be 30% to 50% shorter, and much more gets completed. In the best case, these practices have a shared agreement within the team, and there is a team commitment to the practices.
Do you ever find yourself musing, “I do this thing, I know I do it, I don’t want to do it, and I keep doing it anyway!” In the worst of times, we can find ourselves running on automatic and acting in ways that don’t further our lives or enrich others. In the best of times, our excellent Self will lead the way.
Self-management is the first and most important step when wanting to make changes in our life both personally and professionally. Our humanness demands that we create a “personality” with which to interact with the world. This construct is formed by multiple influences including but not limited to our primary family, the community we grow up in, the institutions we take part in, the historical forces and social context we swim in, and our relationship to “the big energy.” All the influences of this are put on us and happens mostly out of our control.
The part of our life that can be most affected by this shaping is what happens to us under pressure and stress. For some, this is where they shine, and shinning is more rare than being triggered into an automatic-ness of disappearing, fighting back, or acquiescing, and will most likely not be pretty. This moment is when we lose connection to ourselves and other and at the least, we will compromise ourselves, and at the worst it is possible to harm others. Lack of skill here, the skill being the developed ability of self-management, can be very harmful to team dynamics.
When there is a lack of self-control, a disrespect of other points of view and the absence of empathy and compassion, we lose our humanness and begin to see other as object. This will ultimately tear down a team.
One of the impacts of being part of teams that meet virtually, is the difficulty of the lack of human, in-person interaction. This is due in partly because of the venue – virtual – and partly due to lack of skill. High performance teams embody the skill of self-management, and blend together with curiosity, compassion, and dignity.
How We Became Who We Are – Shaping
The immediate “needs” of all of us are present at birth. These needs, referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we are naming as Connection/Affection, Belonging, Safety, and being valued or Dignity. These needs are so fundamental to us that we begin to develop our “personality” related to getting these needs met.
The body physically shapes related to our life experiences and getting our needs met in a process called armoring. For example: Consider a scenario in a family where children should be seen and not heard. At times, when the kids get a bit rambunctious, one of both parents get emotional and angry, often with consequences. One of the younger siblings is a target for the others when they get too excited. In other words, when passion and aliveness are expressed, they are marginalized or not safe, or both. A couple of things can happen. In reaction to all this, one can become louder, more demanding. This loudness gets attention, so at least there is attention even if not the best kind. Or, for safety reasons, better to get small and invisible. The former shape could be something like chin up, chest out in a defensive shape, voice loud, taking up too much space. Or the latter shape is somewhat slumped and quiet holding life’s energy tight.
We will all take the shape of our experiences, both positive and not so positive. Look at a group of adults and you will see all different shapes, not tall or short or wide or narrow, but rather how the head sits on the shoulders, is the pelvis recessed or pushed forward, what is the set of the face?
This term was inspired by Dr. Richard Strozzi-Heckler and relates to the embodied practice we developed in reaction to stress and pressure. Karen Horney suggests these three ways we might react: move away, move towards, or move against. This reaction moves on the instinctual level within us, faster than we can think, making it very difficult to interrupt or stop.
Determining and defining a team culture is the ground upon which the team operates. I have worked with organizations and teams with no defined culture, no rules by which to play the game. Very often team members will then make up the rules which more than likely will be different for different people. Consistency serves, everyone plays by the same rules, no exceptions, and when there is alignment with the values of an organization great things can happen. Every person is different when it comes to, “playing by the rules.” Some will defy the rules, other acquiesce to their detriment, others play with dignity and integrity. Humans appreciate just enough structure, but left on its own, a culture will organize itself which often does not a pretty outcome.
Let’s think about this is a different way. Coming from the belief that a well-grounded culture is not just useful, but necessary, how can this be done? One way is to consider that a defined culture is a set of practices a group of people commit to embodying, and is revealed by day-to-day activities, behaviors and habits, and interactions with other team members. It is the aligned practices of effective coordination. The ground is always about holding the integrity and dignity of oneself, each other, and the organization. Who gets to decide the practices? The team leader or team members names the game, and there is always an openness to assessments about the cultural practices made by team members that can increase the value and effectiveness of the team. This is a component of a world class team, part of cultural practices: there is always not just permission or invitation, but a responsibility to speak up when relevant, useful, or necessary.
What is a practice. As used here, a practice is a commitment to a recurrent action. People have writing practices, music practices, fitness practices, dance practices, practices in so many domains in life. Some examples of cultural practices for teams:
• Be kind, be polite
• Be honest and authentic
• Live dignity and integrity
• All actions build trust
• Make promises and commitments – be accountable, hold others accountable
• Make effective request and offers
• Willingness to admit mistakes
• Everyone is responsible for the success of the team
• Provide grounded assessments where useful or necessary
Not everyone is naturally good at all these things. We could say the above list is a set of skills to be practiced and embodied, and for some, personal development can be very valuable. When a team begins to embody these skills, individual engagement increases, effectiveness increases, bottom line increases, do-overs are deceased substantially, meeting are shorter, quality of work is improved – the list goes on. It’s not about perfection, mistakes will be made.
An effective, defined, and embodied culture allows all players to play their best game.