The Anna Karenina phenomenon builds on the first line of Tolstoy’s novel, which states:
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
When it comes to how an organization meets, we find the opposite to be more true.Unhappy organization are all alike; every happy organization meets in its own way.
The organizations that provide the case study examples for organizational excellence, cultural cohesion, and that achieve the enviable combination of economic performance and a healthy workplace have all discovered ways to meet that are both effective and tailored for them.
Some of these, like sales and new business development, directly impact our ability to generate new top-line revenue. The ROI of training sales people to run excellent meetings is no-brainer obvious; trained sales people sell more stuff and make more money.
Note: This post is an excerpt from Chapter 8 in Where the Action Is: the Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization, available now on Amazon.com.
Participation propels perceived meeting quality. We call it participation when we are attending a meeting—as in, "I had a chance to participate." Meeting leaders often use the term engagement to describe the same thing.
The Spectrum of Meeting Engagement
Engagement is about getting the individual into the meeting, about breaking through the noise and fog of whatever may be going on for each person so they can focus their will on the collective goals. Meeting engagement is observable behavior; you can see whether or not someone engages in a meeting. This engagement falls across a spectrum of behavior that looks something like this.
At the bottom end of the spectrum, you have the Disruptive behavior— things like:
Meetings, Manners, and Civilization: The Development of Modern Meeting Behaviour, written by sociologist and meeting expert Wilbert Van Vree, was originally published in 1999, but I just finished it this March. Of the five meeting books I read this spring, this was by far the most thought-provoking, so I asked Dr. Van Vree if he'd be willing to discuss it with us here on the Lucid blog. He agreed!
I was enjoying lunch at a technology conference with a group of CTOs from high-powered companies when the conversation turned from blockchain to meetings.
It’s funny how that always happens.
First, we heard about the awful meetings held at a large manufacturing company. Then, it was the CTO for an NFL team's turn.
“My team meetings are terrible!” he exclaimed. “My problem is my co-manager. If it were up to me, we’d have an agenda for every meeting and a report afterwards. I’m an orderly type of guy. Like, you should see my sock drawer. It’s amazing! But my partner thinks that’s all too formal and stuffy, so whenever I bring an agenda he just ignores it. Then of course the meetings always go long, we never get through what we wanted to talk about, and we just end up having more meetings to hash it out again. I guess I should put my foot down and start forcing him to use an agenda.”
There are easily five things you could pick out of that statement as problems worth addressing, but the big one is the conflicting beliefs between the managers. One wants to “follow rules," the other sees rules as needless constraints.
“Have you heard of a real-time agenda? Or Lean Coffee?” I asked. He hadn’t, so I explained the concept.
I’ve heard this adage many times when complaining about my dog’s behavior, and occasionally regarding my children too. The person sharing that wisdom is telling me that my dog’s and my children’s poor behavior persists because I allow it to; because I’m creating the conditions where that kind of thing can occur not just once, but repeatedly.
Several registrants asked about how to deal with the person who won’t stop talking, making it hard for anyone else to get a word in. Several others asked about how to get people to show up on time, or even to show up at all.
I shared some specific techniques for helping with these situations in the webinar, but as more and more of these replies kept coming in, I couldn’t help but hear that adage echo in the back of my head.
You get what you tolerate.
While I believe that’s true to a degree, I never found it particularly useful!
When asked what they want most from the meetings they attend, people ask for clarity.
We asked this question at the start of our most recent meeting survey–
“What do you feel makes a meeting worth attending and a good use of your time?”
–and the replies included 136 detailed answers to this question. Of those, 62% included the descriptors “clear”, “specific”, “defined”, and “concrete”. “Relevant” was another popular adjective.
On the noun front, “agenda” was neck-and-neck with “outcomes”, as in “clear agenda” and “concrete outcomes”, suggesting that people not only want to know why they’re meeting, they also expect to get something out of the deal.
Leading to the question that drives nearly everything we do:
How can you achieve this clarity in your workplace meetings?
Introducing Pilar Orti The Lucid Meetings team is delighted to welcome our newest template designer, Pilar Orti. We’ve been following Pilar’s work for some time now. She is both a frequent collaborator of Lisette Sutherland’s and the director of Virtual not Distant. While preparing for an interview on Pilar’s podcast, we ran across her blog post about the Latte and Learn and invited her to share this process with the Lucid community. We’re thrilled that she agreed! — Team Lucid
What does it mean to create a learning culture within your organization? Depending on your group’s size and complexity, a learning focus can take many forms including everything from full-blown certification coursework to the casual exchange of notes in chat. Somewhere in the middle of this range, there is a type of learning that is more focused and intentional than simply sharing notes, but much lighter and easier to pull together than a formalized training session.
The Latte and Learn process falls into this middle range, dedicating just 30 minutes for a team to learn something new from one of their colleagues. Here’s how it works.
In the month since we published a taxonomy of the 16 Types of Business Meetings, we’ve heard from many people who say it’s given them a useful new perspective on how to approach their meetings. We’ve also been asked many times about the chart featured in that post, which has since been shared on social media over a thousand times.
(Admittedly, not as hot as a Beyoncé snapshot, but c’mon! This is a taxonomy of meeting types we’re talking about here.)
The original post is very long and details the process we used to define each type.
Missed the original? If you have an hour, go read it now! Otherwise, here are the high points:
A meeting is not a meeting. If you want to run better meetings, you need to know the best way to run the kind of meetings you need to run. Generic best practices won't cut it.
You can tell that one meeting is different from another based on these characteristics:
the intention, or purpose and desired outcomes,
the meeting format,
and the expected participation profile, or, who normally runs and who normally attends these kind of meetings.
We organized and sorted and grouped and examined every kind of meeting we could find, and narrowed them all down to 16 distinct types of meetings.
Throughout that process, we knew that there were important relationships between different kinds of meetings, and that exploring these relationships added yet another layer of usefulness to the taxonomy. When you understand not just the types, but also the relationships between meeting types, it gets much easier to answer the key question: Is this meeting the meeting we need?
For example, it’s not wrong to tell people they need an agenda with clear outcomes listed for every topic. It just doesn’t apply to a lot of situations. A detailed agenda for the one-on-one with my boss? For the sales demo? For our morning huddle? Yeah, I don’t think so. For the board meeting or the requirements analysis meeting? Absolutely.
Sometimes an organization has a pervasive problem with meetings. People complain that there are too many meetings, nothing gets done, it’s wasted time, it’s all power and politics instead of productivity—and they start to look for solutions. They find lots of generic advice, and they find lots of this kind of drivel: