Meetings and Smoothies

I’m enjoying a smoothie on my front porch. Yes, it is a little early in the season (my fingers are chilled and a bit stiff) but so worth it to be outside, listening to the birds and neighborhood activity, feeling the breezes, noting some flowers pushing their way up out of the ground, smelling not only the fresh smoothie, but our last (probably) wood fire for pizza, and my espresso – a treat to get the writing juices flowing.

While I am drinking this smoothie, I am thinking about meetings. Trust me, the connection is there. Has there ever been a meeting, say a departmental or division meeting, that you have truly enjoyed? Me either. Yet I see the potential for enjoyment, and even better, fulfillment and progress in such a meeting. I can taste the accomplishment and, dare I say, nutritional boost feeding my work and the work of the organization.

Let me see if I can describe such a meeting for you so that you also recognize the potential. Picture a departmental meeting, with several disparate yet connected units in attendance. The meeting is a once-a-month or once-a-quarter deal. Many of these units don’t actively work together on a day-to-day basis, but the work of each unit does affect the work and success of the other units. Let’s assume that this meeting is not one with a specific purpose, but is a regularly scheduled touchstone meeting for the department. These meetings are chronically time consuming and linear, and most of the attendees see them only as a necessary annoyance.

In our better meeting, however, the convener starts with a few minutes of connection for the whole team. She asks a simple question such as “In a sentence or two, tell us what issue or task is foremost in your mind right now”. The purpose of such a question is to let everyone acknowledge that they may have concerns that will affect their function and attention at the meeting. It also serves as a reminder to those from other units of the general aspects of work the whole department engages in. This is also a great time to introduce any new people attending. Let them say what is foremost in their mind as well, even if they are new to the company.
Some other questions might be:

  • “What one thing do you hope to accomplish in this meeting.”
  • “What do you think is holding this department back from excellence”
  • “What is your passion in the work you are doing…what keeps you going?” (an example of a more personal insight inquiry)

These questions will also, over time, build team depth and trust that can support the work even when something goes wrong. The greatest benefit is that this moment, and the created solidarity, will encourage sharing of the even “crazy” ideas that can propel companies into a new era of success.

At this point, many departmental meetings quickly devolve into a simple report-out from each unit. The meeting becomes merely a string of isolated updates so that the departmental lead or the executive in attendance is up-to-date on what everyone is doing. Hearing what’s what is important, but there are detriments to this approach:

  • Unless there is a dedicated timekeeper who is good at this task, invariably the reporting from each unit, and the meeting, run over time
  • The nature of man is to plan out what you will be saying if you are “up next”, meaning that often the other meeting attendees are not listening to the current speaker
  • There is little to no reflection on how any one unit’s report informs the work of the other units, and if there is reflection, there is no scheduled opportunity or time to share that insight
  • There is often a desire to show off for the leadership in the room, leading to inaccurate information in the reports
  • Someone will need to go first and someone last

Back to my delicious smoothie. It contains spinach, avocado, apple cider vinegar, banana, ginger, flaxseed, and some coconut. And it is exceptional. Smooth and rich. I would have an entirely different experience if I ate each ingredient separately, one after the other. The contents would be just as nutritious, just as organic, just as valuable as food, yet they would have no ability to influence or be influenced by any other tastes. And, in some cases, an ingredient on its own is horrid. I have no desire to take a swig of apple cider vinegar, even though I know it is intensely valuable nutritionally, yet in my smoothie?; It adds a tiny bit of zing and heightens the flavor of the avocado and ginger.

I bet you can think of some units in your department that you would prefer not to hear an isolated update from…but the info from a financial unit regarding a creative project you are engaged in, or information from a training unit about how to share that financial information with the whole staff, can be invaluable.

Instead of taking a report-out route leading to disconnect and one-upmanship, a powerful and engaging meeting will focus on one project or one idea for general discussion and input. A competent facilitator will make sure to do several ‘rounds, calling on each and every participant to offer a thought into the process. It may feel awkward at first, this seriously delving into a topic and getting insights from all the disparate units, even disagreeing with each other in front of your executive lead. The benefits are many:

  • Access to the collective experiences and knowledge of your team
  • Time dedicated to not only sharing problems but co-creating solutions
  • Team connection and trust building
  • Growth in knowledge of the greater business of the department and the whole business
  • Shared pride as projects move forward with inputs from all
  • Reduction in us/them blaming tendency
  • A realizable ability to keep to time

The important wrap-up of such a meeting can include a call for final reflections, in a ’round of all participants, and/or a summary of tasks or big ideas that were revealed in the discussion. Another powerful end moment can be a parting question, with vocalized answers or not. Something along the lines of “Think for a moment what part of this discussion can and should influence your work, your unit, or your current project.” This way each attendee will benefit, directly, from the meeting.

Refreshing.

What would change if each departmental meeting you attended posed a question about the future of the company, and then sought your input into that future? How much would your work benefit if you had that quarterly one-hour meeting where you could gain insights from all of the big brains in your department, or where you were invited to offer your expertise to the work another unit was engaged in? Would you enjoy and even look forward to such a meeting? I would.

Make your meeting a smoothie, and be greener,

Jodi

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