Meetings are a core ritual in today's work world. Everyone is trying to figure out how to do them better. There is this temptation to think, 'if only I follow this easy-to-understand guide, my meetings will once again become useful, under control, relevant, well-organized.'
But, people don’t work that way. We are inherently messy. Anyone who has ever been tasked with leading a change initiative knows that conversations are difficult to map, people respond to new ideas and questions in ways that are not rational, guided by emotions and unvoiced concerns.
Yet, it is through interaction, conversation, that we share our ideas, decide what they mean, and build the understanding that ultimately guides our behavior. So, meetings are not to be given up on.
As a matter of course, in all my change efforts, I deal in meetings. In fact, I go after them with a hunger to learn and hear from as many points of view as possible. Here are eight principles I live by when it comes to meetings:
1. Identify all the people who are major players and contact them regularly. This is straight out of Marketing 101. Convene those who understand and support what you are up to, your evangelists. Meet with directors, project managers, and all those who have the most to gain from your work.
2. Meet with everyone, everywhere, at every opportunity.
Bring in key players whose participation can make or break your most important efforts. Create working groups. Do dog and pony shows. Meet with clients and members. Visit other agencies that are doing what you are trying to do and bring them in to visit your team. Even meet with - gasp! - business gurus.
3. Turn everyone on your core team into an expert presenter.
Enroll them in toast-masters, teach them how to lead engaging conversations, get them up on the stage, in front of the board room. Send them to conferences to present. Without a doubt, they represent your project. Make sure they do it well. Leverage them to expand and scale your reach.
4. Meet regularly and often with detractors.
There is an old, Native American saying, "Bring coyote (the trickster) in the front door, or he will come in the back door and bite you in the @#$!" Here are three benefits detractors will bring to your initiative:
i. They will educate you on your weaknesses.
Then you can fortify and bolster your position by addressing the areas they identify.
ii. Some will convert and become staunch supporters.
iii. Simply by associating with them you will gain respect and build political clout.
Others will appreciate your efforts and you will become a magnet just by virtue of your desire to meet with critics. Some of your detractors will respect you for this as well. Though they may not support your efforts, they will become partners in other helpful ways.
5. Share Your Excitement at Every Opportunity.
We live in a river of conversations that never stops. The dialogue, like a river, spreads and flows to parts unimagined and permeates the tiniest crevices. Everything is wet with juicy conversations, gossip, new ideas, hot innovation.
As a result, everywhere we go people are thinking about the next coolest thing, what it means to them and their work, how they can become involved and the benefits it can bring to their day-to-day life. Insert your ideas into these coversations.
6. Aim for candid conversation that generates real solutions, even as situations are difficult and complex.
The value of authentic conversations is immense. If possible, get it out in the open where everyone can benefit, and momentum can be generated. But, if required, I'll go to the cafeteria, the bar, even the smoking room. Take me where conversation is real. Authentic talk is the currency of change.
7. The desire to listen is paramount; demonstrate it through your behavior.
Encourage and praise everyone you speak to for joining in.You will be surprised at who has something valuable to offer. Many people are asleep because their work, their boss, their program is dull and uninviting. Make them welcome. Listen to what they have to say.
8. Share what inspires you most profoundly about your work.
Every successful change leader I have worked with is good at lifting peoples' eyes up above the horizon, to a larger, greater goal. They are expert at inspiring, getting people to engage in a grand venture, and contribute as if all their professional expertise mattered. That's when meetings come alive.