Why Meetings Matter

People Sleeping During Presentation“A meeting is an indispensable tool – if you don’t want to get anything done.”

                – John Kenneth Galbraith

As Fast Company founder Alan Webber pointed out over twenty years ago, conversation is at the very heart of knowledge-based work. Yet most of us don’t recognize how dependent we are on conversations for learning, for making sense of our experiences, for building relationships, for innovation, and for sorting out how we feel about ourselves and our work.

The beauty of the way knowledge-based organizations operate is that the more engaged – and the more respected – workers are, the more productive they are, and the happier their customers are as well. And almost all successful organizations today are knowledge-based; even retail stores and factories depend on people who are well-educated, computer-literate, and self-directed.

The best way to improve the work experience – and to enhance productivity, increase engagement, and make work fun again – is to change the way those meetings we spend hours and hours sitting through are designed, led, and experienced.

You’ve heard all about low employee engagement and excessive employee turnover as organizations struggle to create attractive work environments and opportunities for satisfying work.

I am convinced that the best, most effective way of addressing those serious organizational challenges isn’t by attacking them directly. It is by rethinking and transforming those millions of meetings and other corporate conversations that take place in hallways, offices, and conference rooms around the globe.

Too many of us don’t know how to talk to – make that “talk with” – each other about things that matter. We don’t know how to listen thoughtfully, and we don’t know how to blend diverse insights, ideas, and experiences into coherent and creative solutions. Frankly, we aren’t very good at encouraging others to engage with us in meaningful conversations.

Let me amend that: most of us already do know how to talk with each other. We do it all the time at home, at social gatherings, in pubs and coffee houses, and wherever we meet each other outside the workplace.

Curiously, however, we don’t seem to have the right conversational mindset at work. We may have a conversational skillset, but we don’t use it effectively to draw out the latent talent, ideas, and insights that are locked inside the heads of our fellow employees.

In my experience, most team and meeting leaders seem to believe their primary role is to tell their staff what to do.

But telling isn’t leading. Yes, part of the role of a leader is to articulate a compelling vision of the future, and to guide the team towards that goal; but in a world that’s swimming in information and filled with knowledgeable people, leadership is really about enabling collaboration and group decision making on a grand scale. That means engaging people in meaningful conversations. As my friend David Isaacs likes to put it, collaboration is the art of blending a collection of individual intelligences into a collective intelligence.

If you want to make your meetings matter, focus on creating that collective intelligence. All it takes [alert: deliberate understatement] is respect for your colleagues’ insights and experiences, curiosity, and a desire for collaboration as the best way to produce the best possible outcome.

Note: the majority of this post is drawn from the introduction to my new book, Making Meetings Matter: New Rules and Cool Tools for Leading Corporate Conversations in the Digital Age (to be published in January, 2016; sign up now on the book’s website for advance notice about its availabililty).


Contact me today for a free 30-minute conversation about how you can make all your meetings and corporate conversations both functional and fun. Please download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter to explore what’s possible.


 

3 replies
  1. Phyllis Weiss Haserot
    Phyllis Weiss Haserot says:

    Jim, I agree with all you say in this post except “most of us already do know how to talk with each other. We do it all the time at home, at social gatherings, in pubs and coffee houses, and wherever we meet each other outside the workplace.”
    Unfortunately, this is true only for a smaller proportion of the youngest generations (GenY/Millennials and Gen Z) than the older generations. As a congenital optimist I believe it is not too late to reverse this trend, and with my workplace cross-generational conversation focus and consulting and coaching on intergenerational challenges at work am trying to do so. They add up to a lot of people. In order to make meetings matter and achieve their purposes we need to take generational influences, worldviews, mindsets and skillsets into account.

    • James Ware
      James Ware says:

      Phyllis, thank you for your comment and observations. You are right that conversational skills differ among the generations. And it is also my sense that the millennials are better at it than many of us older folks. But I have seen many instances of the more grey-haired among us having powerful and meaningful conversations outside the workplace. However, I don’t dispute your point that there are many people who are poor listeners and poor conversationalists; we do indeed have a lot of work to do to return the norm to civil discourse!

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