Putting the soul back into meetings

‘How can we have meetings that are productive and uplifting, where we speak from our hearts and not from our egos?’

I love this quote from Frederik Laloux (Reinventing Organisations) – it reminds me what it’s like to be in a really bad meeting; and what is possible when you’re in a superb one.

Meetings are often the only time a team has protected time together – a time to come together to discuss, debate and decide on important issues. Yet too often they don’t feel like that, they feel soulless, dull, scary, intimidating or just a waste of time.

Instead of conversation, there are statements. Instead of collaboration, there’s competition. Where encouragement could be offered, there’s challenge. Where challenge needs to happen, there’s passive agreement or silence.

So what goes wrong? The first thing thing is to look at whether your meetings are input or output driven.

Input driven meetings

These focus primarily on process, agenda and information sharing. I call them state and inform meetings – where to a greater or lesser degree, people run through a list of what they’ve done. One by one. In turn. Then the meeting ends.

At their worst, meetings like this are a competitive battle, a place for team members to present themselves in the best light in front of colleagues or stakeholders. Listening only to find opportunities to reassert strength, disagree or demonstrate greater knowledge.

At their best, meetings like this are places where people say their bit, then stay quiet and hide for the rest of it. No eye contact, doodling as if their life depends on it and wishing it was over so they can get on with real work.

Input driven meetings tend to occur because relationships aren’t fully formed and trust is low. The overriding tone is likely to be one of fear, apathy or exhaustion.

Output driven meetings

These focus primarily on what the meeting delivers for you as a team/organisation, they’re about providing you with – clarity to make good decisions, confidence, chance to debate difficult issues and challenge each other constructively, encouragement, strength.

Meetings like this give teams and organisations the capability to strengthen and accelerate their performance. They’re spaces where trust can be built, ideas and ambitions can grow, cross-org relationships can develop, points of commonality (and difference) can be found, where failures and successes can be discussed and learned from.

Output driven meetings tend to occur where relationships are strong and trust is high. The overriding tone is often one of energy, collaboration and purposefulness.

So how can you move towards an output driven meeting? It’s about small steps which will help you to build relationships, develop trust and encourage listening. Here are 3 things to get you started:

1. Think listen, learn and discuss instead of state and inform

This approach shifts the emphasis away from speaking as a means to defend, challenge or block; and towards asking questions, learning and discussing. Something as simple as moving from ‘this is what I’m going to tell you’ to asking the team ‘what would you like to know’ makes an enormous difference.

2. Share information beforehand

Meetings are about discussing, exploring and deciding; they’re not about reading. Share critical information beforehand and keep it brief and succinct, so that your meeting is about what you do with that information rather than just sharing it with each other.

3. Debrief a success

This can be a great way to move you away from state and inform and to encourage free flowing discussion. Use the first half of a meeting to debrief something that went brilliantly (product, service, team collaboration etc.). Have a cuppa, stand up rather than sitting at tables if you would do normally, and ask yourselves…

• what was integral to our success?

• what was surprising?

• what was noticeable about how we worked together?

• what could we learn from this?

Notice what happens when you have conversations like this, and think about how you can encourage more purposeful discussion in future meetings.


Thanks for reading,

If you’d like to bring some soul, energy and focus back into your meetings, get in touch – I’d love to hear from you.

You can reach me through LinkedIn, Twitter @kirstenlholder or through my website – http://www.kickstartdevelopment.co.uk

Photo by Ricardo Resende on Unsplash

#meetings #teams #leadership #business #communication #collaboration #motivation