How I hate being late to meetings
Even a minute late makes a difference. What happens when I am late?
I don't get to breathe into the meeting with the rest of the group. Sometimes it feels like I might as well sit on the sidelines and unconsciously that is what usually happens.
I have not had much experience in my life playing team sports, but I have done a share of group dancing. And like with all sports, each practice or match or competition begins with a warm up. The warm up being necessary for each individual body of the player/dancer to prepare but also the whole body of the team. It’s when the individuals come into sync. They move from warming up to setting the plan and as a group, in the mind and body, enter the dance floor or football field.
When I am late to a meeting, I am a few exercises late in the warm up. The exercises that form practices to come from individuals to a group in a meeting are very powerful. As they are in sports. And they are also some of my favorite parts of the meeting.
Be the meeting of 30min between two people, or 2hours with a team of 30 across different timezones, a joint warm up can help people arrive. The intention being two folds 1) the full presence of the full person who has come to the space and 2) the weaving of the individuals to come together in this space of time. The result being that by being full present together in our individual voices, we can better tackle the important work we have to do in this 30min, hour and half, three hours or however long.
I will take you through the process of warm up and cool down with steps which I have developed and practice in gatherings big and small. If you’d like to dive deeper into what happens in between, during the game or ticking off the agenda points, subscribe to my upcoming posts :)
First, let’s breathe together
I like to start with Enter the Space. Giving everyone in the room the opportunity to speak; by asking a question that prompts a one word/short answer. This does a number of things:
- helps the group enter into this space and out of the one we are no longer in. For some it may be the previous meeting, the upcoming one or the evening’s chores.
- begins to clarify where we are individually on the purpose of this meeting and our expectations
- identifies what may need additional attention
The question should be personal and refer to the individual’s state of being. They can be
- In one word, how are you feeling about the intention of this meeting?
- What’s currently occupying your mind?
- What are you leaving behind the door when stepping into this meeting?
The questions can vary based on the group or topic to be discussed at the meeting. But do not let the fact that you "don't know each other" dictate the intimacy of the question. If you are not going to begin building the relationship now, then when? When you are negotiating the rate? Or wondering how to facilitate conflicting views?
In just a few minutes we have taken deep breaths together to arrive. And here, do feel free to do that exactly that and take a moment to take three deep breathers intentionally together. From here we move into being together in the space, understanding what we brought to it and what we hope to leave with.
Second, roll out those shoulders
With each step we go deeper into intentionality of the meeting. The Lean-in check-in questions help the group understand what is the GSP location of the individual on the topic at hand and the expectations of the meeting and beyond. By getting these details out on the table, it helps the collective to go deeper on the purpose and defines where we may need alignment along the way. It helps leave the individual minds wondering about what this is, why it is this way, how come left and not right? It also opens up the space to speak up, to participate in the discussion and let the power of the group unfold, rather than the power of egos and individual agendas.
Your Lean-in check-in questions can be two to three questions that ask
- What would you like to feel leaving the meeting?
- What have you prepare for the meeting and how does it serve its purpose?
- Is there something we add to the agenda? How does it serve the purpose?
Do not lose the opportunity to be intentional with your check-in and avoid the divergence to things outside of this space that do not serve the purpose. Done unintentionally, it can open up cans of worms about every topics from yesterday's board meeting, to the quarterly reporting or the upcoming conference sign ups.
By being transparent and intentionally in laying out our expectations, we have jointly rolled our shoulders together. Released the grits that held our expectations, our pride around what we’ve accomplished, and hopefully our individual agendas that do not serve the collective team.
There’s a high likelihood, if you and your team are new to this process, the list of expectations and agenda items are beyond what the meeting can provide. And will require you to come back to your intention and mold the agenda to what serves the purpose, while parking the items that came up but don’t serve this space. Be sure to not let them stay there. Decide on what, how and who model for each item. Otherwise you’ll see them crawling into each meeting over and over again. You may not have the answers here and now but you surely can take the next small step.
Third, we have arrived
We have entered into a sacred space where you have everyone’s undivided attention, they are engaged, they are out on the field together. The above practices have enabled a space that is now ready for the team to create, work, build and play together.
It is in this space that you move into the purpose of the meeting, moving through the agenda. One of the most crucial practices to continue the momentum of the group is to listen, listen deeply.
Want to know more about how to move through your agenda items? I write about transitions into human-centered teams, organizations and institutions. Peak back soon to read about what it means to listen deeply and how that can help shape and form productive and inspiring meetings.
Fourth, it’s time to close
It may feel like you must use every last minute for the agenda points to ensure the most productivity of the meeting itself. But the meeting is inconsequential unless its purpose continues outside of the meeting walls. What that looks like in practice is that the discussion, decisions, and reflections continue and the group knows it can rely on each other in that process. Priya Parker, in the Art of Gathering, goes as far to say that the most important piece of the closing of any gathering is for a group to “be shown itself in a dramatic fashion before it disperses.” It helps for each individual to answer what this space was and what of this space I am taking with me.
Therefore, the final minutes of the meeting can provide a vital step for clarifying expectations, outcomes and helping to move on to whatever is next for each of us, individually. As with the start of the meeting, the team has warmed up together. At the closure, no matter what the results of the game or competition may be the team takes a moment to congratulate each other, cool down and understand that they were in this together.
It may sound like a ceremony but it does not at all have to be big and grand. But it should not be taken for granted in its audacity to rekindle the purpose of the meeting. Before you go ahead — make sure to get all the other business, reminders and deadlines out of the way. This should be the absolute last thing you do together.
Dependent on the number of participants, take 2-10min to give everyone chance to speak for the last time. Again, pose a one word/short answer question, while straying away from yes/no questions. Sample questions you may consider
- In one word, how are you feeling about where we came to at the end of the meeting?
- What are you excited / worried about?
- What have you learnt about one of the participants during the meeting?
And for the respect of everyone in the room — everyone speaks and everyone listens and the group disperses after this closure.
Bonus : the Magic of the Process
I am practicing believer of this technique. I believe it so much that I ask from the gecko if the host (if it is not me) would trust me to guide us into the space. No matter how tight the agenda or the reason for meeting, this process can be intentional and help it come together.
Needless to say, a safe and vulnerable space is essential to making this an equally valuable experience for all of the participants. Cultivating such a space takes time, consistency, patience and courage. Do not be discouraged, it will not happen overnight. Keep your intentionality clear to bring more meaning and depth to your meetings and as a result, productivity and transformation to the work itself.
Additional resources you may like to explore
Work of Priya Parker on the art of gathering
Work of Brené Brown the practical guides of Dare to Lead
The Reboot Podcast - #121 Belonging Together with Chris VandenBrink, Dan Putt, Andy Crissinger & Carl Baccellieri
About the author
I study the interactions between humans through the way we communicate, work together and gather. I am fascinated by how our relations with ourselves and with each other are changing the way we think, act and understand our work.