Is there any bigger enemy of high performance than a meeting? Meetings should propel innovation, inspiration, and collaboration; be places that encourage people to unleash passionate pursuits that lead to seeing new opportunities, acting on them, growing them, and sharing them to generate sustainable momentum.
When was the last time you had a meeting like that? A better question is when was the last time you and your people came into a meeting with that kind of mindset? How often do you say, “Great, another meeting! They are engaging, inspiring, and empowering!”
I have never heard one of my clients say that, and I surely never said anything like that in my years of working in corporate America.
It’s not the fault of the meeting of course, but the leaders and the organization. This is especially true of those businesses that have existed for generations and now find themselves trying to compete with category busters like Amazon. Here is what I see when I walk through most companies today: Meetings lack the inclusiveness, individuality, and innovation of a high-performance mindset. Instead, meetings are disorganized places consumed with grievances and problems, not solutions. They lack transparent communication. They overlook the importance of introducing new ways of doing things that allow us to see and seize previously unseen opportunities.
Instead, meetings are fueled by unhealthy hidden agendas not the required strategic focus to build momentum and thus overlook the importance of sustainable growth.
If meetings, like businesses, were run with an innovation mentality mindset, then they would be some of the best parts of the day, bringing people and ideas to the table, challenging the status quo, breaking us free from complacency and generating intimacy with teams and departments across the organization. All in the name of seeing and seizing new opportunities that drives growth and keeps up with the speed of transformation.
Most meetings reinforce the silos that already exist, prove that leaders aren’t listening enough, and undermine the need to create high-performance teams and workplace cultures. Thus, people leave them and continue to do what they have been doing for years: move from one project to the next with little strategy for evolution.
Because too much of what we are doing is not about evolution. It’s about survival.
Meetings are not the cause of all our problems, of course. They are symptoms that must be addressed to eliminate the complacent behavior and attitudes that permeate organizations. We must get back to the basics – make tactical corrections that account for multigenerational and diverse employee populations that are part of larger strategic steps for changing the overall culture, reconsidering the way we regard individuals, and opening us up to hearing differences.
To that end, I challenge you to take these three steps right now to make your meetings meaningful and turn them into environments that fuel an innovation mentality:
1. Tell me what you are really thinking.
Be vulnerable enough to let people speak without judgment (and be genuine about it). What your people want most is to have a safe space to speak up – free of judgment. If your people have the courage to speak up about something that can create more momentum, that’s a huge step in helping them and you act as individual agents of change and evolve from the silos and traditional workplace limitations. You have now lifted your people up and pulled them in new directions and toward opportunities that maybe they never saw. This begins their journey of being able to influence the evolution of the business they serve and the process of aligning their personal and professional goals with those of the organization.
And if you are the one who wants to speak? Stop waiting for permission. I know what that feels like, waiting for permission to speak and act. In my first job, I didn’t believe that I had been given permission to go above and beyond what I had to do – so I did only what the company wanted me to do. I just got tired of fighting for other people’s hidden agendas and wanted to find things that mattered to me, gave me purpose, or made me feel like I was contributing in meaningful ways in support of the organization. So I vowed never to feel that way again: If I was in the room and had something to say, I had permission to speak. So do you.
2. Stop caring about what is wrong.
When I did speak in meetings, it was about how to do more, not attack what was being said or questioned direction. I asked questions to understand and made sure I understood what was being asked but then focused on how to deliver the best performance I could. Time and time again I see people in meetings doing the exact opposite: giving feedback that is never asked for. Looking for the holes in the plan. Speaking just to show how smart they are; attempting to explain what is wrong about what someone is saying or what the business is doing. Our leaders or even our clients ask us to do something or come up with an idea and we either tell them why it won’t work or quietly seethe and then do only what we are told to execute it, nothing more.
I’m not saying every plan is brilliant or even right. What I’m saying is no plan is completely wrong either. Before you criticize and refuse to act, find what is right about it and maximize that. Find the possibilities and opportunities and how you can bring more to the table. And when you are done, you’ll find what is wrong is no longer on the table.
3. Talk less, listen more.
Nothing makes people more complacent about speaking up then a leader who speaks just to hear the sound of his or her own voice. Every time. On every issue. Often first and if not then, they contribute by repeating what someone else just said. Simply put, leaders must listen to understand. If you are always talking, you never listen. If you always have to speak, others just follow or stop wanting to speak. Focus on learning not showing what you know. Listening to and recognizing people is an act of courage, vulnerability, and wisdom in leadership – and it gives your people influence.
Sound easy? Put yourself to the test: The next meeting you attend, keep quiet until the end – don’t say a word. Have someone else facilitate and just listen, learn, take copious notes, and then at the very end of the meeting offer a few ways that were not considered, if necessary.
Stop having meetings that go nowhere and cultures that don’t come together, everything staying siloed while your people lose trust and leaders lose influence. Turn your meetings into innovation think-tanks that allow everyone to get to know each other in a more intimate way by being more inclusive. Focus less on job titles and job description and more on outcomes.
Create environments where everyone contributes, influences more, and creates moments and movements that are meaningful and purposeful.