If you think it’s the leader’s job to make a meeting great, you’re going to be in a LOT of bad meetings. Especially if you’re the leader.
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“You see but you do not observe.”
Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock
Meetings are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
How does a leader get participation without losing control, stay on task without offending anyone, and get to a result while everyone is still young?
By enlisting the help of their participants. Participants, no need to wait for an invitation to help out.
Here are a few useful facts about groups to get you started:
1. Groups are terrifying. Pick up a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order and ask yourself why it takes a 700-page book of instructions to run a meeting. I think it was terror. Captain Roberts was dealing with an unruly, armed mob. He had good reason to be frightened.
Public speaking in the number 1 fear in survey after survey. Speaking in a meeting is speaking in public even when there isn’t an armed mob.
Meetings have to be designed with terror in mind: The leader’s terror and the attendee’s terror. This fear makes us do crazy things like give the same impassioned speech over and over, get tongue-tied at the worst possible time or say the wrong thing. We might blame the leader and not take any responsibility for the meeting. The leader might find participants unequal to the task. No one is at their best when they are frightened. Let’s throw away the big book and be merciful with each other.
2. Authority is unavoidable. There is always a final decision-maker. I’m not sure who started the rumor that meetings have to be designed to disguise this fact, but that isn’t the case. Authority that is transparent and fair can be a relief. Just because a group will energetically debate a point doesn’t mean they really care about it. A decision that goes too long is a sign to step in and decide. A group can be like a little kid who is tired, but heroically fighting sleep. If you’re the leader, check with the group then make the decision. If you’re a group member, you can ask for a decision.
3. There is no ideal meeting. Real meetings are messier than your fantasy meeting, while being satisfying and productive. They do not require recovery time at the water cooler or in the cab ride to the airport. The best meetings are those the leader and participants co-create in the moment. Speak up when it’s not working. And don’t just criticize. Make a suggestion.
4. Try Another Way. I still remember the training film I saw my first day as a Music therapist at Sonoma State Hospital. It featured scene after scene with a therapist trying to get the attention of a profoundly retarded hospital resident. The therapist would repeat the same behavior over and over getting louder and more frustrated. The resident would remain unresponsive. Just as I was pondering which one of them was truly retarded, a disembodied voice would boom: “TRY ANOTHER WAY.” In the new scene, a new therapist would do something that successfully engaged the resident. Something else.
You’re going to have to say things more than once and in more than one way. This is the nature of communication under stress. Try something you haven’t yet tried. I’m not talking about theatrics. Your job is to find a way to get heard.
Groups are a little like container ships: It takes a mile to turn them. Persist.
What are your thoughts about meetings?