Meeting with Purpose

Meeting With Purpose

Nancy J. Geenen, MA Ed., J.D., Principal & Chief Executive Officer

Today I had three online meetings back to back, with no time between them to go over what had just been decided in each, or what my to-dos were, and I thought, “Enough! We need to find a new way of coming together.”

There’s a lot that we gained through these past two years of the global pandemic, and –workwise – one of the most important things is the new ubiquity of technology. In some ways, it has brought us all closer together. I like that communications technology and its mediator, data, have gotten cheaper and become part of most people’s lives in a deeper way.

But we’ve lost a lot too, and I believe that, at least in part, is down to how we came to embrace online meetings. We had to – the exigency of the Covid-19 pandemic meant we were using the internet to come together to carry on. We used online meetings because we were all experiencing an urgent new need. That was their purpose, and it suited us for a while.

But that purpose is waning. People are going back to the office, whether it’s full-time or in some sort of hybrid fashion. We need to find a new routine – there is no going back to what we did before. Life has changed.

We need to stop for a moment and think about this new way of working. Because we are still in a Covid rut, we are still coming together to get stuff done without thinking too hard about the purpose of all the meetings. And remember that during the pandemic another purpose of all this willy-nilly coming together was psychological: we were all stuck in our homes and needed human contact in any way we could get it. That need has shifted now that we are returning to the office (in whatever way each of us is doing that).

Our meetings need purpose. Recently I read – Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering. Priya advocates for increasing the meaning of any meeting (yes, even “just” a gathering of friends and loved ones) by increasing the participants’ level of focus on the meeting. “How?” you ask. Well, by giving that meeting context and purpose before anyone arrives or logs in.

So, apart from the gold standard of encouraging people to set the open time between meetings, even short ones, what can leaders do to give each meeting they run more meaning?

Meeting leaders – and by this I mean whoever called the meeting, regardless of rank – need to be very clear about their purpose in calling the meeting. Communicate the goal, objective, or decision to be made.

At Flexability, we are intentional about why and when we have meetings. There’s an electronic document that we share ahead of the meeting. Any meeting participant can add to it, and all participants may opt for an alert to a new entry. When the meeting starts, we are clear on the purpose of the meeting, have thought about the objectives, and are prepared to contribute. We identify the issue, ask clarifying questions, encourage all to participate, and make a decision. If a participant hasn’t prepared, we don’t delay the process. The “last-minute mentality” only happens a few times before that person makes sure to show up prepared.

Workplace meetings are becoming complex; they can be in-person, online-only, or a hybrid. I truly believe that anyone who comes to a meeting electronically should keep their camera on and their mute button off. Yes, off. People can mute temporarily for sneezes, emergency vehicle sirens, dogs barking, or a child’s question about lunch. But that little old mute button is a barrier to flow in the meeting. How often have you waited while someone searches for it so they can contribute?

The meeting leader facilitates the meeting in a manner that ensures that all participants feel invited to participate – especially when the meeting is virtual or hybrid. Meeting participants should feel that each is seen and heard. As our working world becomes more inclusive and diverse, this too becomes more complicated. When leaders create the opportunity for participation without threat or judgment, participants feel safe to speak up.

How about trying this … set a limited time at the start of any meeting that you use to ground each participant, to make sure they are truly present. Each organization will do this in its own way: quiet time, group breathing exercises, and quick personal or professional bests are a few examples. It’s a good practice to have the transition time from the last meeting to the present.