Can meetings be more productive?
The BBC’s Sean Coughlan wrote a piece entitled “Pointless work meetings really a form of therapy” and it struck a chord. I shared that out on Friday, November 15, 2019.
It’s a short press summary of what Patrik Hall co-authored in a book. The press doesn’t say what that book is. So I wrote Patrik. The book is called Mötesboken : tolkningar av arbetslivets sammanträden och rosévinsmingel.
His co-author, Malin Akerstrom, wrote a related paper – The Merry Go Round of Meetings: Embracing Meetings in a Swedish Youth Care Project. It is worth a read.
I have a few thoughts.
There are (at least) two forms of technology: physical technology and social technology. Physical technology includes physical things – stone working, the spear, the bow and arrow, movable print, the diesel engine, the semiconductor and so on. Social technology includes all the social things – language, the story, codified laws, and how to organize a meeting.
Because it stands to reason that technologies can be improved, and the meeting is social technology, then meetings can be made to be more productive.
One social technology is the ORID framework. It’s a group facilitation method taught by the ICA Associates. These phases are Objective, Reflective, Interpretative, and Decision. You can’t through to a Decision without stepping through the other preceding phases.
There are some meetings that get hooked on the Reflective portion and they don’t ever seem to get out of it. It’s a phase that focuses on enabling the expression of thoughts and feelings about the Objective facts that were placed on the table for all to see.
People are people, and the Reflective portion of a meeting exists for a reason. That reason is that people find it difficult to get to the analytical portion without first processing through the emotional bits. It may be that it takes just as much time as it takes to become unblocked or unstuck as it takes to process data, imagine alternatives, weigh them, integrate those choices, make a decision, agree on a communication plan for that decision, and resolve next steps.
Throughout this past week, I thought of the Reflective portion of the meeting as a risk to be managed, or a tax to be paid, or something that must be endured to be able to progress.
What if it isn’t though?
What if it’s an opportunity for something greater?
A Four Stance Segmentation
I asked for feedback about all of this. I got far more private messages than public statements. Thank you.
I’ve summarized them to preserve anonymity.
Some people emphasized the need for efficiency. Time is precious and sometimes people just need to get on with it.
Others said that the most creative solutions emerged only when there was a high amount of safety, and, it frequently took a long time to get to that point. It takes time.
Others felt that most communication could be better channeled through slack or email.
I looked for patterns – among those I know to be divergent thinkers, those who are convergent thinkers, those who are connectors, and those who are executors. And I found a few.
Those I know to be executors, who just want to get on with it, preferred very short meetings.
Those I know to be divergent dreamers preferred long meetings.
Those I know to be convergent preferred shorter meetings.
Those I know to be connectors didn’t share much.
It occurred to me that it wasn’t just about the mechanical facilitation of the meeting, the reliability of the machinery that produces decisions of consistent quality, but rather, it’s in the configuration of the people involved that matters tremendously.
Executors are unlikely to value the Reflective phase. Facts are facts. Facts don’t care how you feel about them. And expressing feelings about facts doesn’t change them. Let’s go already.
Divergent dreamers, the kind that will carry on imagining increasingly unweighted ideas endlessly, would value the Reflective phase because there is a lot of material there.
Convergers often understand what the divergent dreamers are saying, and will make rapid assessment-declarative statement pairs. It’s not uncommon to hear an acknowledgement of how we’re all feeling about the volume of meetings we’re all engaged in, but we all still have to talk to one another.
Connectors may be able to draw lines between how different people feel about facts and the implications for which ideas are likely to be receive more attention against others. Connectors may also be best positioned to watch how facts change on the basis that people feel differently about them.
In addition to the therapeutic benefits of the Reflective portion of the meeting, there may be a large volume of information that can be gathered and processed during that phase.
Certain types of people take longer to move through different meeting phases than others. Some like to invest in enumeration and exploration. Some like to invest in comparing and weighing alternatives. What if in order to get to the best output, people have to be able to get to their best state?
Each phase, Objective, Reflective, and Interpretive must come to an end for a Decision or resolution to be shipped. It may very well be that the ability of people to change their stances and perspectives through each phase may be instrumental in realizing the most productive outcomes.