The Cure for the Common Meeting
Written by Jennifer Garvey Berger, Senior Facilitator, The Leadership Circle Asia Pacific
Think back to the best meeting you ever had. This could have been regularly scheduled or a one-off coffee with an interesting colleague (some of you may have to think way back).
What made that fantastic meeting so good? You felt like you had something powerful to contribute? You felt like your fellow participants were also pushing their thinking around and they were adding things you’d not known about before? Maybe you left the meeting with new ideas, new possibilities for moving forward, or a new sense that you were all engaged in the same project in your different ways.
Now think back to a less productive meeting. This is the kind where time creeps by, where your colleagues say either boring or obvious things (or both), where you wonder whether you can type emails under the table in front of you so that you’ll get at least something done.
Which of those experiences is more common for you?
Learn during meetings
If you’re like most folks, the terrible meeting experience is common. This is a desperately sad situation. Meetings can be the most creative, innovative times in a workday—and it’s too important for us to be able to think and create together to solve some of the really huge challenges of the modern work world.
Here’s the bottom line: at every regularly-held meeting, everyone in the room should learn something. At every regularly-held meeting, something new should be created—a new idea/ plan/ product/ solution. At every regularly-held meeting, most people should agree that it’s not a waste of time. If you cannot say this, your meetings need a renovation.
Adjust your mindset
The most important change is your mindset. One of the most amazing parts of this whole meeting-issue is the ease with which we accept that meetings will be a waste of time. Imagine just shrugging your shoulders and knowing that mostly the money you deposited in the bank wouldn’t find its way into your account. Or that gas stations would routinely offer you pumps that spilled more gas than they managed to get into your car—while charging you for all of it. Yet we rarely feel cheated by delivering 25 or 50 or 70 per cent of our work days to useless activities.
New ideas can be born
Instead, imagine: what would it mean if you really believed that everyone else in the meeting was making sense of things in a different way? How would that change the questions you asked, the agenda you set, the expectations you had of your colleagues? Meetings are often places where culture is carried and lived out and spread, where silos could be dismantled, where new ideas could be born.
Make a change
For the next week, just see what would happen if you believed meetings could and should be productive and helpful spaces for your work to thrive and grow. Then, once you believe such things are possible, you can set out to create the conditions that make them happen, not just occasionally, but each time you go to a meeting.
Dr. Jennifer Garvey Berger is a Facilitator for The Leadership Circle. A global leader in the applied adult development field, Jennifer teaches and speaks about leadership at places like Lucasfilm, the Commonwealth Club, and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University. She uses theory and practice knowledge to help individuals and teams transform themselves and their organisations, and she writes about these ideas (her new book is Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world). Jennifer earned a masters and a doctorate from Harvard University.