Does it feel too hard to change a longstanding relationship or meeting problem? Try an MVI.
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“That was the worst meeting I’ve ever been in. I had no idea I could be that bored and remain conscious.”
“Not a total loss, then,” my boss said.
“Is that typical for this group?”
“Yes. Although, the cookies were much better this time.”
“Have you ever used an agenda?”
“Sure – it didn’t help.”
What about some groun…”
“Liz, stop! It won’t help. This meeting is just our cross to bear.”
I was in a pickle – condemned to a deadly 2-hour Friday afternoon meeting in the company of my boss’s peers and not allowed to improve the meeting. Moreover, I ran the risk of embarrassing my boss in front of her peers if I wasn’t absolutely circumspect.
What do you do when there is nothing you can do?
Look for the minimum viable intervention (MVI). Something so tiny no one will object to it.
You might ask everyone to say a word that describes their current state of mind, or how the meeting is going for them. That way, group members are telling themselves what they need to hear. It may take a little time, or a second round before someone suggests a change. That’s how an MVI works.
Sometimes the MVI is a question, like “Is anyone else confused about what were trying to accomplish?”
Or, “What exactly are we trying to accomplish here?” Often, the first time I raise a question, it’s dismissed. The second time it’s treated more thoughtfully. Then, it’s a depth-charge as one by one other participant’s realize they don’t know either.
Others times the MVI is plus-delta evaluation at the end of a meeting or project:
What went well (+) and what would we like to change for next time (delta). We know and trust this format, and people will jump right in. It leads naturally to an action plan, which is permission to do things differently in your next meeting or project.
In every case, it is not you giving direct feedback to another person. It’s you inviting the group/other person to comment on the interaction along with you. This is kinder, and much more gracious than jumping all over someone.
This is the beauty of the MVI: It acknowledges that we all contribute to the way things are. That we all have to do things differently in order to make it better.
Here’s how it came out for me: After several months of lobbying, my boss agreed to a meeting evaluation, a classic MVI.
“No agenda, no ground rules, none of that touchy-feely stuff – just 3 minutes at the end for a plus-delta evaluation.”
Which is how I found myself in the front of the room writing 3 flipchart pages of changes: we need an agenda and ground rules and a timekeeper, and an outcome and meeting processes and all that “touchy-feely stuff.” There was one thing in the plus column: The cookies. When it came time to assign these new tasks, my boss was looking at me through eyes so sharply narrowed they could have cut steel. Or me. It seemed I had engineered a coup d’etat. I apologized on the spot. Her peers laughed about it. She didn’t crack a smile for the rest of that meeting or at the next one. But at the one after that? She was grinning the whole time. The group had agreed to stop meeting.
My boss took me to all her meetings after that. It was the beginning of a new career for me, all because of one MVI.