Meetings are rarely in person these days and they are one of the things that I miss most about face to face work with a group. A whole project team in the same room has an energy and life of its own that is hard to replicate via the small post-it squares that we see on a screen. Meetings are, in many different forms, the lifeblood of project work; ideas sessions, workshops, design reviews, demonstrations, decision making all get done via meetings.
It’s been a focus of many years to develop meeting practices that are both productive and purposeful, that deliver outcomes and protect people. Priya Parker’s book ‘The Art of Gathering and Why It Matters’ has given me a new level of insight into how we gather (or meet), and how to improve the productivity and purpose in ours. Parker says that gatherings are a specific moment in time that you can shape. I see this as an opportunity to shift thinking, so as a change management. What this has sparked is some questions about how we can use meetings as gatherings to change ideas and ways of interacting. She has also reminded us of some of the basics of meeting preparation that we endeavour to bring to every client engagement.
A category is not a purpose
Parker makes the insightful observation that “a category is not a purpose” when it comes to gathering. So often meetings, particularly reoccurring ones, suffer from the assumptions of the category that they belong to. So, Parker encourages us to take a step back and “commit to a bold sharp purpose” at the start of our gathering. She challenges us to reimagine traditions and to refine and create our own spin on them. Make sure that the tradition or the purpose of the meeting is clear to those who are attending and for the host to keep the whole thing on track.
A wonderful reminder for the team at 6R as we start new engagements, that focus on purpose must be explicitly stated. It’s not enough to assume that everyone is clear about the purpose or even clear on the goals of the project (or the meeting). When you are the host, it is your responsibility to create the structure, prepare the group and to honour the time given by the people that are in your gathering (or meeting). This sounds really obvious, but the number of scrambled and meandering meetings I have been to (I’m sure I’m not alone here), shows that there’s room to improve.
Meeting essentials (a reminder)
Some of these seem blindingly obvious but they are mistakes I’ve witnessed or made myself, so they are a reminder:
- The right people should be in the room (and just them), no additional extraneous observers/ hangers-on are required. Much like the maxim that the whole team is how poor behaviour is managed, the whole meeting is being distracted by the one person who cannot stop typing on their laptop or phone.
- The purpose must be explicit before and during the meeting, the host has a responsibility to own the purpose and keep the focus.
- Prepare and your purpose stands a much greater chance of being realised. Preparation includes both people and logistics. Poorly performing logistics can derail the momentum and mood of a meeting.
- Introduce people, make sure they all know one another and why they are there. In some projects, we have such large teams that not everyone can be close, but we work in each meeting to give the first few minutes to building connection in some way, having a laugh, sharing a story, photo or idea together builds communication and trust inside the team.
- Own the meeting purpose and honour it. Bringing people back to focus on why you’ve come together in the first place is the job of the host.
- Respect the time and focus of your guests, we always try to give a bit of space at the start and some breathing room at the end of a meeting to allow a small mental break in the day for those who are spending lots of time on screen.
- Promises that are made in meetings need owners and dates so that they can be tracked.
- Decisions taken need to be recorded and a way of being followed up.
- Accountability looks different in different teams, and for different people. Creating accountability in your team means working with the team on what they need to stay on track.
- Closing out the meeting means making sure that people are clear about what it is that they are to do from here.
The new lens of gathering has brought some new ideas to me and the team at 6R on how to create meetings, gatherings if we can aspire to such lofty goals, that will deliver on the purpose and promise of the project. I hope you found this post useful as the year and meetings start back up again.