My Favorite, Best-Ever Staff Meeting

The best staff meeting I ever attended was the one where the 7 of us decided to ask to be laid off. It was a sterling example of collaboration and authenticity. We were trying to figure out how to re-invigorate ourselves after our boss’s 100-person department had been re-orged out from under her. We were the remnant without clients, without a budget and without hope.

We’d soldiered on for the last several months, but we were shouting into to a void: no matter how many big binders full of impressive plans and analyses we’d produced, we got no response from prospective clients. We were talking about our lack of success and what else to try, when Rich said: “I’m going to ask to be laid off.”

We all went silent – so silent, you could hear cells dividing.

Rich explains his thinking

Finally someone sputtered: “L-l-l-laid off?” Not the most elegant paraphrase, but it got the job done.

“Yes. Think about it: there’s an excellent severance package right now. We have no budget and can’t get anyone to fund us. We’re going to get laid off, it’s just a matter of when; I’d prefer to be laid off under this package, not the downgraded one that’s sure to follow.”

Several more cells divided as we stared at Rich.

Someone said: “Rich, that’s brilliant.”

And, one by one, the rats began to jump off the sinking ship. It was the most spontaneous, open and personal conversation I’d experienced in a meeting. We talked about what we’d each do when laid off. Rich wanted to go back to school, 2 of us had always wanted to start our own businesses, the other 3 wanted to apply for a different job within the organization, something being laid off would give them time to do.

We all turned to our boss, who hadn’t said a word. She said: “I want to be laid off too – it’s clear to me that this job, and this department are going nowhere. I’ll go talk to my boss after this meeting.” By the end of the day, we had each chosen a lay-off date and signed the necessary papers.

I’ve never forgetten the way our energy built as we told each other more and more of our own truths, brainstorming about possible futures. I’ve experienced that kind of excitement and the thrill of co-creation many times since then, and I do all I can to facilitate it in the teams I work with. That staff meeting is where it all began for me, my first experience of what was possible with a group willing to be both honest and collaborative.

In fact, that’s the only staff meeting I remember in 15 years of attending them.

I bet you’ve got stories too. Tell me – what’s your favorite staff meeting story?

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