Transforming Meetings

According to research carried out by Time to Think (Havers, 2010), we spend half our working lives in meetings, one third of meeting time is spent interrupting others.

That’s two things wrong, right there.

The first question to ask is, do we need a meeting for this? If we’re truthful about who has the power to make decisions, we might admit that many meetings are for show. Or that consultation, in a digital age, could be carried out in more efficient ways. And if we were given the time (and had the discipline) to process information in advance of the meeting, decisions could be made more quickly and accurately.

The second question is, how can this meeting be more efficient? A bespoke blend of Thinking Environment applications is not only more efficient and engaging, it holds in place the conditions in which each person present can do their best thinking.

And Thinking Environments have been a revelation online.

They sidestep the continuous partial attention of digital life by asking that phones and emails be put to one side. The contract is that if participants offer the generous gift of attention to others, the meeting will take up two-thirds less of their time (at least!) and be twice as efficient.

In her latest book, The Promise that Changes Everything, Nancy Kline unpicks the quietly counter-cultural power of the Thinking Environment ‘promise’: no interrupting.

“I love how sceptical people were of this time-saving feature at first, and how amazed they were to see it in action. Then gradually because we knew that the promise would save us time, we just became less frantic.”

Some additional rules for meeting in a Thinking Environment:

  1. Make explicit the question inside the agenda item.
  2. Circulate the agenda before the session.
  3. Be clear about what the agenda question is designed to achieve.
  4. Stick to the contracted timings.
  5. Be explicit about who is leading what.
  6. Avoid the power play that is Any Other Business.

It is not necessary to waste the time, energy and goodwill we do in meetings. Meetings make people unhappy (and we are quickly replicating the physical meeting culture online, with even less focus and attention). How we run meetings is how we lead. Nancy Kline draws on Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, ‘Antifragile’:

“Leadership like this is doing humanity a particular favour…when our lives are largely in a thinking environment we become antifragile. We have the resources and the mental capacity to think our way ingeniously through the crisis together, and to arrive better than we were before.”