Purpose and Meetings

Occasionally something simple occurs and causes us to see something profoundly important. This happened recently.

We were visiting a friend and her husband. They were committed to attend a meeting. They invited us, but our friend warned that she did not think it would be very engaging. We asked why. She said she was part of the planning group, and despite her inputs on how to run the meeting, the speakers were all likely to stand and present information. She predicted that the audience would become disengaged within the first few minutes.

We went to the meeting. It unfolded exactly as predicted. After five minutes we glanced around the room and most people had their heads down. Most were viewing their screens.

Close to the end of the meeting our friend’s husband had five minutes on the agenda. Instead of presenting he asked an engaging question, listened to the answers, shaped them into a core message, made one strong statement and sat down. During his five minutes everyone was engaged. The next person stood up and people soon returned to their screens.

This is not a story about a meeting. It is a story about most meetings, in most places, most of time. Every day there are millions of meetings in which billions of hours of human time are wasted. The scenario is so common we accept and expect it to occur. Think about it; before we went to the above meeting, our friend correctly predicted what would happen. Even the speakers could have predicted what would happen. If this is true, why did it happen?

It happened because of a lack of purpose. Authority figures are not leaders. Authority figures only become leaders when they fully commit to a higher purpose. The moment they do, their every act becomes a conscious effort in emotionally connecting their people to the collective purpose and creating a culture of excellence. Every moment of every meeting becomes a precious resource. The leader refuses to let anyone become the expert – pouring information on an unengaged audience.

In a positive organization, people are less likely to fall into conventional roles, like the expert, information dispenser. Instead they ask, what must be done now to clarify the purpose, promote learning, and increase commitment? Like the husband in the story above, they step out of the expert role. They make themselves equal and vulnerable as they ask genuine questions and listen sincerely. They allow an honest conversation to emerge. They integrate what has been shared, then close by making their own most authentic points. As they sit down, they do so knowing that everyone was engaged and the collective purpose was furthered.

Reflection

When you are asked to share information, what assumptions do you immediately make?

Why is what the husband did so uncommon?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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