Tuesday, June 1, 2010

X Ways to Y Your Meetings

I was alarmed—even insulted—to find my years of education, professional training, and experience reduced to apparently simple advice, widely available on the Internet:

3 Ways to Use Icebreakers to Energize Your Meetings
4 Ways to Make Sure Meetings Are Not a Waste of Time
5 Ways to Overhaul Your Meetings Manners
6 Ways to Add Life to Your Meetings
7 Ways to Make Your Meetings More Productive
8 Ways to Juice Your Meetings
9 Ways to Cut Down on Meeting Time
10 Ways to Take Your Meetings from Good to Great
20 Ways to Improve Virtual Meetings
50 Ways to Liven Up Your Meetings
101 Ways to Make Meetings Active

I was alarmed—even insulted—until I remembered that I too had provided such a prescription.

It occurred some years ago I was asked to teach “Meeting Facilitation Skills” at a conference, but with only 40 minutes for the session. My initial reaction was, “Not enough time; can't do it!” Then I thought about Hillel's response to “Teach me the Law while I'm standing on one foot,”* and I figured since I had a full 40 minutes, it behooved me to give it a try.

Rather than attempt a comprehensive overview I decided to focus on four elements that are fundamental to groups, collaboration, and facilitation.

Meaning. I talked about the importance of meaning in organizational life and the value of having a clear purpose, negotiated and renegotiated as it may be, for any meeting and collaborative effort. This has implications for how we convene meetings, people's internal commitment to attend and participate, how we communicate, etc.

Understanding. I proclaimed that understanding is critical in organizational life and that understanding others is as important as being understood. And I proposed that objective as well as subjective information, and analytical as well as intuitive ways of processing information, are essential. This pertains to how we socially construct our individual and collective understanding.

Choices. I suggested that making choices is fundamental to organizational life and emphasized the value of having a clear choice-making process for any particular decision. Indeed, the choice of choice-making processes is a critical choice! This is related to the various decision-making tools and techniques that might be used by a group.

Relationships. I talked about the significance of relationships in organizational life – the relationships among the members of the group and the relationships between each of the members and others outside the group. It is important to recognize how our relationships affect our choices, and vice versa, and how the understandings and meanings we gain depend on our relationships, and vice versa.

Meaning is what we want.
Understanding is what we need.
Choices are what we make.
Relationships are what we have.

*Hillel's response to “standing on one foot.”