Meaningful Meetings Focus on Results and Relationships
A high performing team has just created their team charter. The team has signed it and displayed it in their office. Then what next? In a separate meeting, this same team had defined their business targets with little mention of the team charter created 1 month ago. In one meeting, it was the soft cultural elements, behaviours and mindset. In another meeting, it was the hard performance targets and numbers. Both seemed to go on independently of each other. Should they? “The team charter is meant to be alive, a spirit that we embody in our work,” opined Masan, the leader of this team. “How do we integrate both mindset and business performance?” This is a great question probably and an important one.
One way of answering this question is to have actions and projects to generate activities to deepen the culture. Think of HR championing the espoused culture, laminating the Core Values onto the walls or using measurements and projects to drive the culture. It becomes yet another set of activities laden onto the already full plates of the managers. This article is not an argument against this approach. But this activity driven approach often misses the point, because building culture is not about “doing”, it is also about “being”.
Another way of thinking to build our espoused culture is to build this future one room at a time, one meeting at a time. Which room? The room we are in now, the meeting we are having now. The way we be together and conduct our meetings is a microcosm of our culture.
How are your meetings like? We typically spend much of our time discussing problems, solutions, strategy, market changes and customer needs. These meetings tend to be task-oriented, time tight and ends when actions and doers are identified. Some meetings are highly productive and useful in generating action ideas, whilst some meetings are boring and unproductive. Either way, both fall short.
My mentor, Peter Block, once asked a question towards the end of a meeting we facilitated together, “What is needed for them to be whole?” He was referring to an executive team and how to close out a meeting. Great meetings are those that take care of task and deepen relationships, inspire commitment and create a positive work culture. This is wholeness in meetings.
Wholeness in meetings is an expression of opposing and complementary polarities:
- Task + relationship
- Action + reflection
- Divergence + convergence
- Performance + spirit
A Whole meeting focuses on both what and how, e.g., what is the work to be done and how we be with one another. In essence, it is both results and relationships.
We attend to the work to be done and deepen relationships as well. It has space for both action and reflection. It allows for divergence of ideas before convergence of decisions. Within this is active agreeing and disagreeing. It is high performing as it also embodies the espoused culture of the team. The thirdness created from this integration is a sense of engagement, empowerment and enablement.
The question is how then do we create meetings that are a representation of the future we want to have? The work with an extraordinary team inspired some thoughts on a meeting process. These ideas are also heavily influenced by Peter Block’s work on chosen accountability and commitment.
4Cs guide to wholeness in meetings:
Connect, Content, Commit and Cherish
What follows is an elaboration of each ‘C’ and some suggested questions to use in each stage of the process.
“Connect before content”, suggests Peter Block in designing meetings. Before people can be fully engaged, they need to be connected with the people. The quality of relationships determines the quality of conversations. This means treating the person as a fellow human being, not simply an implementator of the ideas. This creates space for us to be authentic and speak our truth.
For example, a team I am working with has valuing one another as family as part of their team charter. So for them, the start of a meeting is to convene as a family. So before lunging into the agenda, spend a few minutes on these questions:
- What’s on your mind?
- What’s going well?
- What exciting development…?
- What new learning…?
- What’s the best thing in the week?
- How are you feeling?
This is more personal than weather talk. Get a pulse of fellow team members and invite them to be who they are – what excites them, what they are learning, how they are feeling. If it’s a small team, go around and listen to one another for a few minutes. If it’s a large group, talk in trios or quads.
Next comes the main content of the meeting – to explore possibilities, discuss issues, generate ideas and determine what’s next. Here are some questions:
- What’s the possibility that inspires me?
- What’s the future I want to create?
- What’s our/your dream?
- What’s working?
- What if?
- What assumptions do we hold?
- What are we learning?
- What are the success factors?
- What/ who are our resources?
In this process, articulating the possibility we want to create is the most critical. Many of us are well schooled in generating actions, but actions for what? Without a conversation on the possibility we want to create, the actions generated create a future that is little different from the past.
Within this, create space for divergence of ideas. Postpone the need for clarity or action steps. Like a lotus flower emerging from murky water, new possibilities spring forth from uncertainty and chaos. It is also helpful to reexamine our assumptions in a rapidly changing world. Imagination, insights and inspiration are the ingredients to create new possibilities. The strengths based approach, Appreciate Inquiry would be useful in this process, as it validates what is going well and how to have more of it.
With clarity on what we want to create together, we enter into the 3rd C – Commitment. Here are the relevant questions at this phase:
- What doubts/ reservations do you have?
- What is at risk for you?
- What are you willing to commit to (with no expectation of return)?
- Who, what, how and when?
- My request to you is…
- I am willing to…
- What’s our action plan?
We are inviting commitment from genuine belief in the meaning of the work or mission, rather than bartering benefits. Any change or transformation effort is fraught with uncertainty. The outcomes are not guaranteed, making promises of “what’s in it for you” a sales pitch. This is not an argument against gaining from one’s efforts, sure, there will be benefits or learning at the least. Making a commitment without any expectation for return is demanding, but it is also more enduring in the face of trials and tribulations.
It starts with space for one to talk authentically about their concerns, doubts and reservations during the meeting, rather than privately along the corridors or in the pantry. This is an opportunity to clarify and makes the meeting real, rather than role playing.
With commitment comes action planning, not the other way round. Too often, we generate a list of actions and try to figure out how to incentivize, enroll or push others. The change effort becomes a selling job. In action planning, we also contract with one another – who does what and making offers and requests. So towards the end of the meeting is a simple summary of action plan.
It does not end here. The end of meetings is symbolic of the culture. This is the 4th C – Cherish. We close the meetings by appreciating and helping one another grow. This brings the focus from task to people and from differences to reconciliation. It also gives feedback to one another, so we help one another learn. For example, the team has “to support and help one another grow as champions”. Instead of waiting for training workshops to learn and grow, do it in every meeting. Here are some suggested ideas:
- Thank you…
- I am sorry…
- I appreciate your…
- I love how you…
- A strength I see in you is…
- A gift I received from you is…
- How are you feeling about the meeting?
- Your contribution made a difference…
Planning your Next Meeting
With these 4Cs in mind, in a 60-minute meeting, plan for at least 5, if not 10 minutes for Connection, followed by Content discussions. Take a pulse if there is a clear possibility or aspirational goal, before moving to Commitment conversations. We don’t need to have all 4Cs in a meeting, Commitment is too precious to be taken lightly. However, ending meetings in appreciation and support for one another (Cherish conversations) provide the soil for the team to get through future challenges. Plan 10 minutes for this and give everyone a chance to close out from the meeting.
So in summary, have the 4Cs in mind when designing and facilitating meetings – Connect, Content, Commit and Cherish. Integrate task and relationship, dream and plan, doing and being to have wholeness in meetings. Try it and let me know how it goes!
Kind acknowledgements to the Extraordinary RKA team in BP China and Peter Block, author of The Answer to How is Yes, for inspiring these ideas.