Once upon a time I went to a monthly meeting with my boss and her peers where we mostly sat around and ate cookies. The cookies were homemade and rather good, but they could not compensate for the meeting, which was the most painful I’ve ever endured. Long silences, meandering conversations, no one in charge, one person or another trying – and failing – to get us back on topic. In this way, 90 minutes would
s l o w l y pass. It was like practicing for hell. Each month after the meeting, I’d beg my boss to fire me so I wouldn’t have to go back. Each month she’d say: “If I have to go, you have to go.”
So I started suggesting the usual things: outcomes, an agenda, meeting processes, facilitation. “None of those work,” was her reply. In this way, six excruciating months c r e p t by. In a final attempt to save my sanity, I asked if I couldn’t please just conduct a meeting evaluation. “Five minutes, a quick plus-delta at the very end. That’s it – I promise.” Exasperated, she agreed.
The delta (or, what we should change for next time) column ran down hal the sheet of chartpad paper, then looped back around until it filled most of the sheet of chartpad paper. On it were things like: Have an agenda, have timeframes, have a facilitator, have a purpose, more structure, shorter meeting, what are we doing here, anyway? In the plus column was a single word: Cookies.
I said “Let’s decide what to do about this list of deltas.” My boss shot me a look which I chose to interpret as supportive. In the end, I agreed to put together an agenda and facilitate the next meeting. We kept the cookies.
Two much shorter meetings later, the team agreed to disband, as they had no actual work to do.
What if it’s this simple? What if the meeting you dread could be improved with this simple technique? I think it can. I’ve never seen this fail to make a meeting better.
Here are the keys to making it a success:
List the pluses first. Linger here. Divide a chartpad into two columns and list the pluses on one side of the chartpad so everyone can see the list. The group will want to rush to fixing what’s broken, missing the chance to encourage themselves with what they’re doing well. Over time, they come to feel beat up on, and their enthusiasm wanes.
Agree to continue doing every plus you can. Brava – it’s working! Acknowledge it and keep doing what works. This is tremendously encouraging for your team.
Solve for each and every delta on the list Every. Single. One. After you finish listing them down the other side of the chartpadk decide what to do about each one, right on the spot. Then, make the change and let everybody know what you did. This means that you bring the list to the next meeting (no, don’t rewrite it or type it up) and say “Here’s what we’re doing differently as result of your feedback.”
Remember: This is not a consensus activity. It’s fine to hear “too much activity” right after you’ve written down “not enough activity.” Let the group members sit with their own differences. They’ll come up with a great solution when you start solving for the deltas.
I’d love to hear about how this works for you, or what you do that works better.