BUSINESS MEETINGS: THE LEADING CAUSE OF SUICIDAL FEELINGS
One of the greatest killers of morale in businesses of all sizes, shapes, and focus, is the dreaded “meeting.” It is almost universally accepted that meetings in the workplace are boring, frustrating, and pointless. When anything does get done, all the participants look at each other and acknowledge the leit motif of organizational life – “ It took us that long to get that done?!”
The reason for this is simple. Meetings are a group exercise in mystifying the human experience. Participants in meetings spend the majority of their time and energy, trying to figure out what, exactly, is going on with each one of their colleagues. The stated topic of the meeting becomes the canvas for the indirect, unstated personal agendas of everyone in the meeting. “Why is Bill looking like his life ended last night? Why is Amy chirping about everything in the world, but what the topic of the meeting is? Why is Joe spaced out and may as well be doing experiments on the space station? And most aggravating of all, why do we have to sit through another pontificating oration by our sales VP, assuring us that we’re lucky to have him?
We’ve been able to solve this problem by addressing the underlying issue. All meetings contain two levels of tension – Relationship Tension and Task Tension. The goal of an effective, efficient, and productive meeting, is to eliminate Relationship Tension and maximize Task Tension. No matter how long people have worked together, they bring anxiety, apprehension and worry into any group setting. Some bring a lot; some bring a little. As long as this stays unaddressed, the ability of participants to focus on task accomplishments is compromised and undermined. That’s why the typical business meeting takes five to ten times longer than it should. All this wasted time is spent on interpersonal detective missions, with everyone in the group trying to unravel the mystery behind their cohorts’ behavior.
We teach our clients a simple and effective tool for dramatically lowering Relationship Tension, and dramatically raising Task Tension. It’s called the “Personal and Professional Check-In.” Everyone gets three to five minutes to bring the group up to speed, on the highlights and lowlights of their lives – at home and at work. Nothing is off limits. As long as the person sharing is okay with it, its permissible. There is no discussion and no rescuing allowed. (For those skeptics, it takes two to three meetings for people to dive in and fully participate; and the structure of the “Check-In” does not offend the HR gods.)
Earlier this year I was working with the senior management team of a client, and it was apparent that one manager was edgy and disengaged. When we did our “Check-In” he kept his surfacy and superficial. Everyone in the group knew that his son was in jail (and had a history of incarcerations); and everyone knew that this weighed heavily on him, and was concerned about him. In the third meeting, someone said something that had lots of feeling attached to it, and it opened up the troubled manager, like a beautiful sun rising. He talked about his shame, his despair, and his hopelessness; his conflicts with his wife over visitations; and his feelings of total failure as a parent. Since that meeting, he has not only been fully engaged; he has contributed enormous insights and suggestions toward the company’s managing its challenges and growth.
All our clients begin every middle and upper level management meeting with the “Personal and Professional Check-In;” and their goal is to cascade it through all levels of their companies.