Before Covid-19 happened, you probably already had enough meetings. Now, you probably have even more. Today, it’s never been easier for people to find themselves in a meeting, wondering, “why?”
Priya Parker is the author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet And Why It Matters and is a professional meeting maker. She helps organizations, communities and simply people, learn the art of meeting— gathering for a purpose. In her book, Parker suggests 2 fundamental reasons why any and every meeting makes you ask “why?”: multitasking and modesty.
The Killers: Multitasking and Modesty
Have you ever left a meeting and thought, “why was I invited to this meeting?” or even better, “why did this meeting happen at all?” Maybe whoever invited you wanted for you to feel “part of the team,” unknowingly, making you feel even less— just another rectangle in the gallery of faces.
If you’ve ever wondered what the purpose of your meeting was at the end, you are not alone. Parker in her book argues that multi-tasking and consequently a lack of purpose and focus, is one of the number one killers of effective meetings. In people’s attempts to get as much done, check off as many boxes as possible, be as efficient as possible, the opposite happens.
As the old sayings goes, “with no vision, the people will perish.” and “if everything is important, than nothing is important.” What then is required of every meeting is a clear purpose. Just as many projects have SMART goals, so should a meeting.
The other conspirator of the murder of meetings alongside multitasking says Parker, is modesty.
Modesty, is the holding back of one’s personal responsibility and power to lead the meeting. Parker uses the example of a dinner party where a bunch of people are invited by a person to their home to connect. If the host simply allows the conversation to flow where ever it may go, it may and most likely will go nowhere. What is needed in these situations and many others Parker suggests, is a host or leader who can warmly navigate the flow towards the desired outcome.
Meetings exist however because there is an inherent recognition that things don’t just happen on their own. Businesses and organizations do not grow simply because people have a job or get paid.
What then is required for every effective meeting is a leader who takes responsibility that the reason for their meeting is achieved.
The Solution: Reason and Responsibility
Although there are good intentions behind hosting a meeting for multiple purposes and giving lots of space for group move on its own, it ultimately does a disservice. The most valuable limited resource everyone has is time. And when people are invited or forced into a meeting which feels afterwards pointless and progressless, you lose trust. You make your people question your intelligence and care, and very subtly diminish their drive and the quality of their work.
By now, everyone knows fear doesn’t work in motivating or moving people towards a common goal for very long. So here are 2 things every host needs to do:
1. Give a clear reason
Hosts needs to make sure their invitees know why they’re going. What the purpose of the meeting is and their purpose within it. What determines whether the meeting was success and more importantly, what will determine whether they were successful in it?
Do not try to accomplish a million things in your meeting and learn to focus it. If you have to, try having multiple meetings in a day spread out, each with a specific desired outcome.
2. Take a large responsibility
Next, the host must take responsibility for their meeting. They need to recognize that as the host, they are in a position of power whether they want to be or not. They, more than anyone, need to know the reason for the meeting, the reason why each individual is present, and take full responsibility in helping the team and each individual in getting there.
If you are the host, enter the meeting as if it really mattered. If you can’t, then maybe this meeting is better left to an email thread.
If you don’t think the goal of the meeting can be accomplished in the given amount of time, then maybe you actually might need more meetings.
Unfortunately, there is the chance that you have no formal power and lead no meetings on your own. Instead then, ask your supervisor what would make them really happy at your next meeting and how you could help them accomplish it. Your supervisor will appreciate your intention and your initiative more. You might also dread your next meeting a bit less.
The Saviors: Purpose and Progress
Although there are multiple ways to define what it means to be human, there are two which are particularly relevant for this topic: the desire for purpose and progress.
People are the only creatures that ask “why.” They are the only creatures that need an answer for the meaning and purpose of life.
We are also the only creatures that believe things should better. That life is about going somewhere.
It isn’t surprising then that people need their meetings to have the same essential ingredients as their lives: purpose and progress. How can we provide this? By giving a clear reason for our meetings and taking a large responsibility for them.
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