Sunday, 14 February 2016

Ever considered how removing physical barriers can help hold effective meetings? #HappyValentinesDay #kmers

Management literature indicates that on average we spend 35-50% of our time in meetings.

A 2014 Harvard Business Review research shows how a company spends 300,000 hours a year in meetings. And this is not an uncommon "feature" for most organizations.

The same articles states that "research shows that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings—a percentage that has increased every year since 2008. No amount of money can buy back that time. It must be treated more preciously."

Others such as Atlassian estimate that "the salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. business is $37 billion." Wall Street Journal estimates that "CEOs spend 18 hours of 55 hour week in meetings."

Management literature and reality shows that running unproductive and inefficient meetings seems to be a staple of modern working life. And perhaps this is why you can find 130 million web articles providing guidance on meeting best practices and 35 million articles on effective meeting best practices.

This plethora of "wisdom" seem to impart fundamental and common sense advice  for running effective meetings - things such as:
  • have an agenda and share agenda ahead of the meeting
  • invite the right people
  • keep time
  • distinguish between information sharing, decision making and brainstorming meetings
  • wrap up with action points and track decisions
  • make sure everyone knows what to do when they leave the meeting 
  • establish ground rules
  • make sure everyone participates
And the list goes on and on and on.
Amazingly enough hardly any of these articles talk about the physical setting of the meeting venue, nor how configuration of conventional board and meeting rooms could constitute an obstacle to and hinder a multi-directional and productive conversation. At the same time, none of them weigh the pros and cons of formal versus semi-informal meetings. 

Close your eyes and think of your meeting room.

Count the number of barriers in the room.

I can think of the long meeting table, the chairs and how when people walk into the meeting room there is a seating hierarchy. I can think of the meeting room without windows or meetings rooms without natural light. 

Now, imagine holding meetings in an environment where you can minimize the physical barriers. To start with:
  • no seating hierarchy
  • no "head table"
  • natural light
  • green scenery
  • physically outside of the office setting
Yes, I know it may be unconventional to hold a board meeting in a park, but I would challenge a brave and bold CEO and board members to take on this challenge and to do so.

I came to the understanding that meetings held outside of an office environment are most productive as I embarked on my new adventure. My first day in the office, I went for a working coffee with a colleague.... And guess what the working coffee was physically outside of the office environment. It was in a beautiful setting. There was fresh air, green scenery, natural light, a pleasant breeze and more.

As we sat at the table, I realized that there were no barriers, no hierarchy.... It was  truly as if we had gone out to a cafe on a Sunday morning.

The physical act of leaving the formal office space and walking out to this neutral land created a different dynamic and helped to set a different tone. The simple act of "walking away from formality" meant there was no one in power, there was no authority. It meant everyone was on the same footing, everyone was a peer.  It meant that we actually talked with each other and not to each other. We had a two-way conversation, rather than a one-way monologue. No one imparted orders, rather we discussed, shared ideas and learnt from each other.

As a knowledge management practitioner we raise awareness about the benefits of removing barriers to create a safe environment for multi-directional conversation. We advocate for alternative meeting methods and techniques so that we can  have better  and fruitful conversations.

While I had practiced and facilitated a number of these KM methods, I must admit that only a month ago did I see in action the benefits of removing physical barriers to have fruitful, effective, efficient and productive meetings and came to the realization that perhaps this is the most common blindspot.

How about next time you organize a meeting or walk into a meeting you consider the following:
  • Hold your meeting in a "neutral territory"
  • Remove physical barriers
  • Engage in a  conversation as opposed to dictates
  • Set the tone and create a safe environment
  • Share information and guidance in a conversational tone
If everyone feels like peers, then everyone is in control of and everyone has power over their actions for the bigger common good.

This is not utopia nor an impossible feat. Having seen the benefits - albeit inadvertently and unintentionally - I would definitely suggest you give a go. Next time you organize a meeting, consider the above and if you can "walk away from your office environment".

If you do give it a try, please share your experience so that together we can collect a solid body of evidence to show that removing physical barriers and holding meetings in "neutral territory" can lead to removing barriers in our head, which can lead to bringing about change.

"If you have an idea, you have to believe in yourself or no one else will."

Sarah Michelle Geller

Happy Valentine's Day!

Post a Comment