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Meetings Should be Mindful But Not Necessarily Fun

mindful_meeting_cristina_fernandez

Productive meetings

There’s a burgeoning trend in some management advice circles. Employees are disengaged, so the thinking goes, because the work environment isn’t stimulating enough. They don’t participate in meetings because they’re not fun. Tell some jokes, devise some games, bring in snacks, a bit of music and then you’ll get more energy in the room. Make meetings more like a cocktail party and people will want to attend them.

Sorry to be a pooper, but I’m not a fan of putting fun first. Attendance in a party-style meeting doesn’t usually make the meeting productive. It might make time pass more quickly for some and for many others – your best employees – it might just cause irritation and frustration.

“Fun” meetings bring to mind the television series The Office. Both the British and American versions feature an office manager who is entirely unfocused, undisciplined and quite attention-deficit-hyperactively-disordered. He spends most of his days recounting recycled jokes and hackneyed comedy routines and forcing impromptu festivities on his employees, most of whom just want to get on with their jobs, sell some paper supplies and ensure their long-term livelihood by helping the company succeed. So it is with many employees in the real world.

Certainly most of your best employees understand that work is… well… work. It can be complex, intellectually challenging, and tiring. That’s often why the best employees find it satisfying. That is also why most people want to receive compensation for working, meaning that they are being compensated for not being able to be at leisure or otherwise doing something more intrinsically enjoyable.

What the best employees want is a sense of purpose, of direction and focus at work. They want to feel that the very valuable resource of everyone’s time is being used wisely and efficiently. They understand the need to explain complicated changes and to share knowledge, but they prefer it to be done in a structured, disciplined way, with everyone fully focused on the one single task at hand and not wasting their time with a group of colleagues who are distracted, half paying attention at best, and mentally off elsewhere in multi-tasking land.

So no, an effective meeting shouldn’t be like a party – it should be more like a television news program, crisply orchestrated, divided up into clearly defined segments, moving briskly from one topic to the next. Build in some snazzy graphics, sure. A bit of video – why not? Set up a lively panel debate – excellent idea. And just like a news program, there needs to be a recognition that not everything can be covered in one show. News flashes and updates can be issued later. I.e. you can follow up on a one-to-one basis in two hours’ time, or come back to it as a group tomorrow, or next week, etc.

How to make that necessary evil of the workplace – the team meeting – more Mindful? In general the idea is to bring the same sense of calm focus, clearly defined timing and sense of higher purpose you bring to your individual Mindfulness practices. Some suggestions:

  • Meeting invitations should make it clear what exactly the meeting is about. What is it trying to achieve? What is the participant is expected to do before and during the meeting?
  • A clearly defined beginning and end time (obvious, but often neglected)
  • Time is money; time is of the essence. Have a clock or clocks visible to all participants at all times. People are good at self-regulating if they always know how much time they have and how much time is left.
  • Preparatory documents, reading material, etc. sent sufficiently in advance, in some case more than 24 hours in advance
  • Everyone ready to begin the meeting on time, fully seated and fully focused. I.e. if a meeting is scheduled to start at 10:00, that’s not when everyone finishes up an e-mail and makes themselves a cup of coffee and straggles into the meeting room around 10:05. Teleconferencing and slide projection equipment is set up and tested about an hour in advance
  • Participants are fully present in body and mind. Devices off and out of sight; laptop screens folded down
  • It might even be possible to get everyone to participate in a bit of mind-clearing breathing for 15 to 20 seconds. It will feel weird at first, but most people will eventually appreciate it.
  • As soon as it is clear the topic involves only two meeting participants, the meeting leader asks them to have a separate discussion later
  • Summarize the agreements of the meeting; write them down on a flip chart, whiteboard or “virtual whiteboard”
  • End at the appointed hour, no matter what. Not ending on time diminishes trust that the participants have placed in the organizer-leader. Ending on time makes the more recalcitrant employee much more likely to attend the next meeting in good humor, willing to make positive contributions.

Key topics:
Mindful meetings, mindful productivity, mindful business, group time management, workplace efficiency and effectiveness, @tonyshwartz @danharris @peterbregman @SharonSalzberg; Meetings should be mindful but not necessarily fun