I was having a meeting with a colleague recently and she went way off topic. Well it seemed like that to me at least. But then I had realized that I had not been clear about my request that prompted the meeting. I had not answered the critical question: What needs to have happened by the end of this meeting for it to have been successful? Why had I asked for the meeting in the first place?
What is our goal?
I have written about good meeting design and how it starts with why -- why are you having the meeting? Had I asked myself these questions to get clarity about my purpose I would have realized that I just wanted to know whether she had any feedback on a document before I send it out to a group we were both working with. I would have saved myself from momentary annoyance. And likely I would have realized that we did not even need a meeting. An email would have sufficed. But the meeting was already on the calendar and I was not paying enough attention.
Do I know the ‘why’?
With that in mind, I am going to look through my calendar and ask the question – why am I having this meeting? What am I trying to achieve? If I did not call the meeting – what do I want to get out of the meeting? Even if I do not control the overall goal of the meeting, I can get clear about my own goals. I can also call the question of the organizer if I am not clear, because others may not be as well.
Scan your calendar
Do yourself a favor – scan your calendar. Can you answer the why for each of your meetings that are coming up?
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Every organization development and strategic consulting project begins with a discovery stage. A time to research and hear from stakeholders and constituents. A time to hear stories about the past, assessments of the present and aspirations for the future. Depending on the project the exact focus will differ.
How effectively is the group working together?
Organization development projects focus on how people are working with each other – what is going well and what are the rubs that are getting in the way of the group being effective in achieving its purpose. The consultant engages in an action research project which could involve observation, interviewing key stakeholders, running focus groups and surveying wider audiences.
Capturing the current state
In the case of strategic planning, the consultant also digs into past work – past strategic plans, other research, basic organizational documents such as by laws, financials, organizational charts, board minutes, work plans, etc. The goal is to begin to get a sense of the current state of the organization. With this grounding in what the organization has documented, the consultant will then dive into talking with stakeholders – through interviews, focus groups and surveys.
Sifting for Nuggets
The next step is to synthesize all this data. This step can be overwhelming when you are sifting through piles of interview and focus group notes to look for the significant nuggets. But once it comes together in the form of themes the gold starts to shine through.
Gift of Listening
One of the real powerful aspects of all this work comes through the interactions with the people you interview, listen to in a focus group, ask for feedback in a survey. Too rarely in organizational life are people asked to reflect on and talk about their experience within the organization. Each interview is an opportunity to be a gift of true listening.
The sigh of recognition
Sharing the synthesis of the research is the point of truth. When you succeed in accurately capturing what you heard and your highlights resonate with the people whom you gathered it from – you can often hear an audible sigh of relief and recognition. “You really heard us,” is music to my ears. The act of being truly heard and seen empowers people to stand in their lived experience and then take action. This could be to face a difficult challenge or have a difficult conversation. This could be to dream bigger for their organization and start envisioning how to take action towards it.
Conversely, when you share the themes with the group and they do not want to hear some of the feedback, lots of different reactions can happen. Denial and dismissing the information. Questions and challenges about your methodology. Getting stuck on one point and spending lots of time arguing about it. Sometimes a project then gets shut down. This is unfortunate for a couple reasons. The organization expended resources gathering information with which they are not ready or willing to deal. More importantly gathering data often raises the expectations of those involved in the input process. They may then be more discouraged after the process than they were before if they see no action taking place.
The Power of Data Gathering
Either way – whether the information prompts the relaxation that comes with – “oh I am not alone – lots of other people think like I do but we just have not been discussing it,” or “no way, you are wrong – that is not how our team functions…” Something powerful happens. The group will not be the same afterwards. Be ready for change when you ask for input.
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