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Meeting Guidelines


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics The Good Dr. Lent has been writing a thread of late regarding meetings (see Avoiding “Risky” Meetings, We Have to Stop Meeting Like This! and A Different Way of Meeting for More Effective Meetings: Different Assumptions. Different Actions, Different Results.). Recently I had the pleasure of taking part in a meeting facilitated by The Good Dr. Lent and saw some of these things in action.

At the start of the meeting I attended, Dr. Lent gave us the meeting guidelines:

  • Show up and choose to be present.
  • Tell the truth without blame or judgement.
  • Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
  • Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.

These are excellent guidelines when they apply to everyone. And recognize that not everyone will be equally able to adhere to them. Thus if person A shows up and chooses to be present but person B shows up and doesn’t choose to be present (they spend more time twittering, txting, etc., and interrupt when they hear an interesting word that brings them back into the conversation) it behooves person A to tell the truth without blame or judgement to person B, “I need you to focus on the meeting at hand. Constantly reviewing the last five minutes of conversation when something catches your attention is both exhausting and time consuming to me.”

While I would love to be involved in meetings that adhere to the above guidelines, I also recognize there is very little truth in the statement, “We’re all adults here.”

I do agree with the guidelines…

…in spirit. I wouldn’t want to go to a business meeting that didn’t have some stated goal (outcome) going in (I’ve never enjoyed fishing expeditions). I also love going to meetings with stated goals wherein it becomes obvious the stated goals won’t serve, brainstorming occurs — ask me about “Where ThunderBrains Reign” sometime — a completely new goal/outcome is recognized, evaluated, selected and put in place.

The “Pay attention to what has heart and meaning” is the social contract killer me thinks. My training is such that I pay lots of attention to people’s hearts and their meanings (see Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, chapters 1-3, either on Amazon on in the NextStage KnowledgeShop), and the differences between someone spending a day and a half of a two day meeting talking about their life because they’re narcissistic and someone doing so because they need to self-explore, to work out some (possibly non-conscious) internal issues they’re not even aware of, become obvious.

I’m looking forward to Dr. Lent’s next installment. It would be de rigueur, me thinks, to say to the former, “Thanks for sharing. You’ve obviously demonstrated what a boorish, narcissistic twit you are. Mind letting someone else bore us for a while?”

But when that social contract is already broken?
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One Comment leave one →
  1. Rick Lent, Ph.D permalink
    2010/07/26 3:31 pm

    Thank you Joseph for your thoughts on the “meeting guidelines” I introduced in the session we had together. I introduced them in that meeting given its unique context and knowing that you might find some of the anthropological roots of those meeting norms (Angeles Arien) particularly interesting.

    I do believe I prefaced my use of those by noting that I don’t usually recommend “meeting norms” as such. In most meetings, I dispense with meeting norms almost completely (and certainly don’t expect them to make much difference in behavior). For example, I agree completely with your concerns about the statement “We’re all adults here.” In my experience, no matter how well intentioned meeting participants are, or how “adult,” all meeting norms are forgotten when the discussion gets hot.

    In my series of posts I have been trying to raise awareness of the assumptions and resulting behaviors we carry with us into meetings. The way to change the effectiveness of meetings is through changing these assumptions, from what I call control assumptions to ones which emphasize engagement. To do this, I find you cannot exhort people to behave differently through meeting rules though many have tried. The most extreme example of norms for the control way of meeting is what Major Robert so earnestly proposed with his “rules of order.” But meetings under such rules rarely change behavior or build support for new ideas. For proof, just watch an episode of our Congress at work or attend your local town meeting.

    Instead of proposing new norms, I believe it is more effective to structure the meeting differently as a different structure naturally drives different behavior. New structure = new behavior. As a simple example of this, compare how a meeting works between a small group of co-workers discussing some decisions in a conference room, and that same group sitting around a (round) coffee table at a breakfast meeting in a restaurant. n my experience such a simple change in the setting of the meeting often changes the nature of the discussion. Think of how much more could change if the structure of meetings was regularly planned to support engagement.

    Some examples of how different structures lead to different meetings are in my next post.

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