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A Different Way of Meeting: Different Assumptions, Different Actions, Different Results

2010/06/23

By a “Different Way of Meeting” I refer to an approach to meetings based on a change in assumptions as to what makes meetings effective.  The way most meetings are designed and conducted seems based on assumptions that good meetings are achieved through control of participation, information, and decision-making.  However, people naturally resist being controlled.  They may resist by withdrawing from the discussion, or they hold on to previous positions and only “give in” reluctantly to the majority opinion if they can’t win their point. This produces frustrating meetings that seem to take more effort than the results they produce.  For more on the control approach to meetings, see my post on avoiding “risky” meetings from last month.

In contrast to such control-based meetings, meetings can be based on assumptions that emphasize engagement.  Such meetings engage a wide range of people who are able to share their perspectives.   Differences can be raised and respected.  Participants are more able to recognize what they hold in common, and respect different views as they commit to subsequent actions.

Moving from holding meetings based on control to ones based on engagement provides a different way to plan and conduct meetings that produce real action.

There are a number of specific practices for the Engagement Way of meeting.  These meeting practices fall into three areas: different ways of planning, conducting and achieving results.  The specific practices by area are as follows:

For a different way of planning meetings there are four practices:

  • Defining the meeting task:  A group can meet together most effectively when it’s intended outcome represents real work to which all can contribute.
  • Including participants with diverse perspectives: Including a range of participants with different views or stakes in the meeting topic creates the opportunity to build more complete and well supported conclusions.
  • Planning meeting process and timing:  The process of the meeting can be planned to involve everyone in the meeting’s work while respecting the importance of managing the available time.
  • Preparing a supportive environment:  Meeting resources and physical arrangements can make the meeting space more conducive to a productive exchange of ideas.

There are also four practices for conducting meetings in a different way.

  • Developing the conditions for dialogue:  With tools and support, participants can create a rich database of individual and shared knowledge to support their conversation and learning as a group.
  • Talking together for shared meaning:  Meetings can be structured in ways that help participants share their thoughts and hear the thoughts of others as they build new understanding and agreements together.
  • Working with conflict: When disagreements and conflict do arise, they can become an opportunity for greater involvement in shaping meeting process and outcomes.
  • Sharing responsibility:  Participants can share responsibility for managing activities and decision making in ways that will build individual accountability for the meeting’s successful completion.

Finally, for a different way of achieving results there are two practices.

  • Building decisions:  A step-by-step approach to group decision making can be used to respect different points of view and align participants around a common set of agreements.
  • Initiating cycles of action and learning:  Meeting outcomes can be implemented more effectively and consistently when people have an opportunity to plan their actions and reflect on subsequent results.

These practices can be implemented using tools and methods that provide a structure which make it easier and more natural for meeting participants to work together differently.  You will find you have to plan to start doing some things and stop doing others, but none of the practices requires special expertise.

Next month I offer some specific examples of these practices.

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