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    Entries in meetings (25)

    Tuesday
    Jan292019

    Could you 'Marie Kondo' (Kon Mari) your meetings? 

     

    The runaway success of the sparkling, joyous, tidying queen Marie Kondo via her book ’The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up' and now the success of the Netflix program ’Tidying Up with Marie Kondo' is giving plenty of people lots of joy in tidying up their homes using her Kon Mari method. 

    Some people have suggested we can do the same in tidying up our mindsets, our diets and our relationships. 

    And how about at work? Don’t just tidy up the kitchen, stationery cupboard or the print room. Could you Marie Kondo all those wretched meetings!? 

    Why not? 

    Instead of gathering up all of your clothes or books into piles, why not do it with all those meetings in your diary? 

    No wonder plenty of us are feeling overwhelmed with the ’stuff’ of meetings: invites, acceptances, locations, agendas, calls for agenda items, minutes, meeting notes, follow up actions, follow up meetings to follow up on the actions, another meeting to follow up on the minutes of the actions of the first meeting’s follow ups. Meh!

    And let’s face it, what meeting have you been in recently (or ever) that sparked joy… or even gave you a little hint of delight or a whimper of laughter? 

    Meeting culture is broken in most organisations. Most meetings are dysfunctional, dated and ineffective. A little like most of the stuff people are throwing out from their home. It’s junk. This is all the more reason to find out what all those meetings are for and whether they serve you or the organisation any more. Time to tidy up. Time is way too precious. 

     

    How might you?

    So how might Marie Kondo your meetings? Here are some thoughts: 

    1. Alone or together. You could do your own meeting audit and tidying up. List out every meeting you go to - particularly those recurring ones that are automatically slotted into your diary - think Steering Committees, Status Updates and anything else update-ish or information sharing. Or you could do this with others; get the team together and gather up all the names of the meetings you’re all supposed to go to. 
    2. Tally it up. Work out the number of meetings and the time commitment these things are draining from your life. Just as Marie Kondo wants us to be shocked by the amount of stuff we own - hence the pile-it-up method - give yourself a rude awakening at just how much time you spend in the organisation's meetings and workshops. 
    3. Do the math. What does this leave you with? How much actual working-at-your-desk-thinking-and-working time do you have left? Is this enough? What’s enough anyway? Get shocked about this. This is the catalyst to change. 
    4. Ask questions. Contact meeting organisers and ask them things like: ‘What is this meeting about? What’s the charter of this group and its meetings? Why do I need to be there? What do you expect?’ When we don’t know this information we can tend to not care, not show up or not say anything. That’s not good for culture or career. Take responsibility to find out why your time is being requested. And if you’re the convener or facilitator, make it your mission to be really clear with people about why this meeting, why them and what’s the reason for it. 
    5. Decide and ditch. Which meetings can go, now? Which ones can be deleted once you’re clear on the answers to #4? Which can have some of their content sorted in other ways or at other meetings (but don’t make the meeting any longer)? And which meetings are must-dos or must attends? Be ruthless and throw stuff out. 
    6. Rationalise first. Rather than fixing all meetings, rationalise first, then fix those that are worthy of saving and keeping. 

     

    Fixing the culture of the meeting

    When there are meetings that you know need to be held or you need to be there - to lead them and facilitate them or to attend them - now it's time to ‘fix’ them. Don’t try and fix every meeting without first tidying. Otherwise it’s like going out and buying storage boxes for all the crap you have when Marie Kondo clearly says we need to reduce first, then store. 

    I see there are four ways to fix meetings that go beyond the lightweight ‘how to run better meetings’ articles out there. 

    Make your meetings fewer, shorter, better, easier 

    1. Fewer. The number of meetings you’re having can change. You’ve rationalised - hopefully via a Marie Kondo tidy up. This is also about the frequency for repeating meetings and the initial decision that a meeting is even required. Phone hookups, online chat, messaging and groups on an app can help get sh*t done rather than sending an agenda and booking a room. 
    2. Shorter. Make some meetings shorter. Some meetings can absolutely take less time. With focus, clarity about the agenda and good facilitation, it can be done. Not all meetings but try some and see. Donna McGeorge’s book ‘The 25 Minute Meeting’ can help you do this. 
    3. Better. What are your meetings actually achieving - what’s the impact or the output of them? Do you know? Most people judge the success of a meeting by what it achieved, the outcomes and results. Meetings will remain as time-wasting talk-fests unless you change something fairly significant about them. Tinkering around the edges doesn’t usually change much culturally in the longer term. 
    4. Easier. We make things harder than they need to be. And sometimes we’re unaware we’re doing that. The way the meeting is run needs to be easier, more pleasant to experience (is that near some joy perhaps?) How easy is it to get work done, make decisions, collaborate, share, design, think, debate…? How a meeting ‘feels’ and how it goes are about making the thing easier. A meeting leader with some effective (not cliched) facilitation skills can make that happen. This is what the Leader as Facilitatorconcept is all about. After all, facilitation means ‘ease’. 

     

    Then keep it tidy

    Just like any transformation, the work is in the habit or the ongoing activity. 

    Don’t just accept meeting invites; ask questions of the organiser or convener. Speak up. Find out why this meeting, why you and what are they expecting to get done in this time-taking activity. 

    Not every meeting type needs to live on forever. Many meetings serve their purpose but they keep being run over a period of months and years. No more. Regularly review and get rid of those that don’t serve, or the situation has changed or the project has ended. 

    One in, one out. And if you’re going to bring a new meeting in, get rid of one. We simply can’t keep meeting the way we are and expecting to add to the list AND be more productive about it. Buy a new pair of shoes? Then get rid of a pair to keep it manageable. 

     

    Take back control of your time and where it’s being spent; particularly at the request of other people and the meetings they’re calling. Apply some gentle pressure to find out why this meeting and why do I need to be there. When you’re able to get more of the things done that matter, yes, that does spark some joy!

    Monday
    Dec032018

    Bad systems beat good people

     

    'A bad system will beat a good person every time' - so said W. Edwards Deming. 

    You've got some great people in your team, on your project, in that meeting, attending the workshop. You really have. Great people.  

    The thing is... the system - whatever system is at play in the project, meeting, workshop -often isn't working to support those great people. It may well be stifling them, stopping them, slowing them down or just slowly breaking their spirit, enthusiasm and sense that they can achieve something. 

    Let those great people give the great ideas, suggestions, hunches, hopes and insights they have. Create a system that leverages the people and doesn't limit them. 

    When you plan your next meeting, workshop, session, project, what systems will support the people to bring their greatness? That's the stuff to fix. Don't blame the people. Remedy the system or structure that's inhibiting them, hindering them or keeping them from doing their best. 

    Sunday
    Dec022018

    Break some patterns.

     

    When you next plan an all-staff meeting, a conference, workshop, strategy session or meeting ... break some patterns.

    The way it’s being done is dull. Starting at 9am; morning tea at 10.30am. Dull side decks from leaders trying to get ‘alignment’ and ‘buy-in’.

    It’s too much presentation, not enough conversation; all monologue, not enough dialogue.

    Darkened theatres and vanilla communications. We are done with it.

    Open the blinds! Ask some questions. Break the routines and expectations that you think are the ‘right way’ to do things.

    The people you serve - not the ‘resources’ or ‘numbers’ or ‘head count’ - the people will thank you for it. 

    Wednesday
    Nov282018

    How safe was that meeting or workshop you were just in? 


    Every time we're invited to a meeting or to participate in a workshop or conversation we're either a participant or the convener/leader/facilitator of the session. 

    Levels of engagement continue to drop across workplaces, yet we're increasingly needing to get people 'on board', 'aligned' or 'buying-in' to strategies, plans, directions and programs of work.

    That workshop, meeting, planning session or conversation you most recently attended - or led - may not have been that 'safe'. 

    Safety - in this case, psychological safety - was less than it could have been. 

    It wasn't safe for people to take risks, to speak up and contribute their ideas or to challenge and discuss in ways that help solve problems, resolve conflict or progress a project to deliver great value. 

    At the intersections of engagement and outcomes
    If you've ever felt steamrolled or stifled, shut down or stopped in a meeting or workshop, I call that a 'Hostage Situation'. It's where outcomes over engagement are the priority. 

    Just as awkward and uncomfortable can be the 'Yawn Fest' where it's low engagement, low outcomes. 

    Sure it's all fun and games at the 'High Priced Party' where we're having high engagement but getting zip zero done. 

    Ultimately we're aiming for the sweet spot of 'High Impact', high engagement, high outcomes. 

    It all looks like this...

     



    ...and I don't think you get there by accident or by default. It's achieved via great design, great facilitation, leadership and safety. 

    Work at it from both perspectives
    I’ve been working with a couple of teams in organisations at two levels or ‘fronts’: 

    1. To help the team feel more comfortable to speak up and contribute their thoughts in meetings and workshops. They have great stuff to give but sometimes they feel shy, uncertain, worried, unsure about what they’re thinking and how best to express it... and how it will be received. 

    and

    2. To help the leaders of teams and projects lead better, safer, more effective meetings, workshops and sessions. 

    You might think that the team just needs to ‘lean in’ or ‘toughen up’ or ‘speak up for goodness sake’ or ‘get over it and get into it’, but that’s not how they might see things. It's this impatience or lack of empathy that's got us here. 

    Additionally, you might believe that the leaders are doing the best they can or it’s not their fault, or there’s so much to do in so little time that of course, they just need to just ‘get on with it’. But there is a way where you can make great progress, and do it within the constraints of a well-designed and facilitated process. 

    Plus... it’s not a clean ‘us and them’ because you can be an ‘us’ in one meeting e.g. a participant, and then shuffle out of that meeting room and straight into another where you’re the ‘them’, the leader of the meeting. 
    We can adopt both of these roles at different times, even if we’re simply having a 1:1 or a 1:2 meeting or conversation about progress, status, problem-solving or planning. 


    Work at making it safer
    The topic of psychological safety isn’t new, but the adoption and acknowledgment of it isn't widespread… enough. Amy Edmonson's TEDx Talk on the topic is a must watch. 

    There are meetings, workshops, conversations and interactions going on in workplaces all the time where people aren’t contributing or speaking up or giving their best; because it’s not safe (enough) for them (their level of safety) to do so. 

    In a leader’s efforts to ‘get shit done’ they might also be stomping on people, steamrolling or shutting things down - often without knowing it. Their only hint is 'people aren't engaged' or 'they're not contributing.'

    Contrast that to a leader who’s been given the feedback that they are a little steam-rolly and then they may swing too far the other way; they become hesitant, uncertain, ambiguous, treading on eggshells and not providing enough direction or leadership or enough constraints for people to do great work. 

    In the workshops I lead with clients on both developing better Leader as Facilitator / facilitation skills and being a great participant / speaking up skills, I hear and see the challenges that each group feels and experiences. 

    Check with a tool
    In planning your next workshop, meeting or conversation, check over how safe is it for people to do all of these things I've mapped out in the grid or matrix-ish thing below.

    Or to not do them. Safe for people to not do them. 
    There can also be the expectation that 'you will speak up' or 'you will contribute' (when we do that dreadful 'go around the room' cliched technique - no please, stop it, don't do that anymore!) when in fact, people might not be ready. Some of that stuff simply shouldn't be forced and there are many other tools, techniques and processes that help get contributions rather than 'around the room' in order. 

    So do this...
    1. Print or save and tick off, be aware of and make deliberate efforts on these. 
    2. Let the team know upfront that you're trying to make it safer to do some of these things. Let them know you'll be wanting to hear how it's going. 
    3. During or on conclusion of the session, ask the team how safe it was to do some of these things - depending on the type of meeting or workshop you held. You'll get instant and immediate feedback. 
    4. Plan and think about how you'll incorporate these into the design, the process, the agenda and  the activities (yes, these are all different things: design, process, agenda, activities) of your workshops, meetings and sessions. 

    We all need to consider how we can make it safer for those who've been stomped on, interrupted or shut down w-a-y too many times in the past. We're all carrying scar tissue of times we weren't given the environment to give our best. Ouch... still hurts. 

    You can make the next interactions with the team more productive, creative, collaborative and effective... when they're safer. 

    And that will most certainly feel good, for everyone. Safe and good. 

    Tuesday
    Jan172017

    The single reason for 'bad'​ meetings

    Bad meetings* get a bad rap - not to mention the rolling of eyes, the sighs and exclamations about the time that has been lost and will never be regained.

    *Bad meetings meaning: none or few outcomes, dull, too much blah blah, off on tangents that aren’t about relevant, brainstorm sessions that fizzle, dead time and space where nothing is happening, going around in circles, only a few loud mouth contributors … you know the stuff... 

    There will always be articles and listicles on what to do to make a meeting better. Like how to have an agenda and set a time frame and warn people in advance ... and on it goes, a list of advice or actions that seem like they could have been unearthed from meetings in the 1960s!

    But I wonder whether a few ‘do this’ points will fundamentally change the way meetings run at our place of work? Underpinning it all is the meeting culture. And that culture is quite deeply ingrained.

    Michael Henderson in his work on Cultures at Work says: 

    Culture creates the environments, daily rituals and beliefs that connect your people, with your company.

    Our culture has been created over time. We follow these rituals, behaviours and patterns often unknowingly and they may not have a documented history that we can pull the threads from. 

    We learn bad meeting behaviours by being in bad meetings. 

    Rituals, routines and ruts get followed because that's what we've seen and experienced. Making and suggesting changes from the seat of the attendee or participant can be tricky. 

    It probably won't all change on Monday morning with a tick box list or a tip of advice from how Steve Jobs ran his meetings (although some of his practices sound super clever or super scary - depending on how you like your meetings to go!) 

    With everything all agile and scrum and collaborative and co-design-y these days, there are newer and more effective (and creative) approaches to ensure you have as productive and successful a meeting as possible. After all, you spend a lot of time in them - both face to face or remotely online. 

    It’s in our interests to lead better meetings - for productivity, for engagement, for decision making, for inspiration, for collaboration.

    Plus if you run a bad meeting, it could be a career limiter. Who wants to go to dull meetings that don’t achieve or decide anything? We don’t want to but every week there is likely to be some meeting or gathering that you sit (or stand through) that doesn't ring your bell, light your fire or flick your switch. Don’t get known as the dude or dudette or dudeley who runs a dud meeting that no one comes to.

     

    So what makes meetings 'bad?

    During a meeting, there is one thing alone that determines the success of that meeting. One thing.

    It's the leader or facilitator of that meeting.

    Yep. It’s them. Or if you're running the meeting…. errr, it's you. (This is said with love, not shame or guilt or criticism. It’s said with love and care.) 

    When a meeting is about to start and then when it gets underway, it's the leader of that meeting - the facilitator of that meeting - who is helping make that meeting good or not so good. Either the meeting will suck or it won’t. And I reckon it is on the facilitator of the meeting, the leader.

    The #1 reason why bad meetings are bad? It’s because of bad meeting leadership. Let me be polite then: "poor meeting leadership". A meeting leader who could enhance their capability.

    It’s about what the person - who is designated or appointed or volunteered as the facilitator of that meeting - does or doesn’t do that makes that meeting rock… or not.

    Yes yes yes, it’s also about the people around the table who are contributing and it’s about the agenda and the location and the sandwiches and the Post-it notes... but it comes back to whether that leader has created the environment for a good meeting to take place. 

    Bad meetings are bad because the leader of the meeting didn’t use effective meeting facilitation skills. They did not use facilitation or ‘ease of progress’ skills … well enough. 

    Three bears

    From the meetings I’ve been in, attended, spied on, coached leaders through and attended incognito doing research, the cause of the majority of problems that create bad meetings is because the leader: 

    • didn’t do something that was needed 
    • did too little or …
    • did too much.

    Did nothing when it was needed. Didn’t do quite enough, or did too much.

     

    Oh wow, can you see how delicate this balance can be?

    Don't do enough and it can go haywire. Yet do too much and it can feel like an interrogation or detention.

    Too hands off or too hands on. Care less or control freak.

    There’s somewhere in the middle where the leader is continually helping to create a brilliant environment for good work to be done.

    Watch closely

    • What happened in a good meeting?
    • Why was it good? 
    • What didn’t happen that you think might have made it a little 'bad'? 

    The good stuff is the stuff to aspire to when it’s your turn to step into the role of facilitating and leading a meeting. Keep building your capability as a Leader as Facilitator.