Let's Stop Meeting Like This

Tools to Save Time and Get More Done

Dick Axelrod (Author) | Emily Axelrod (Author)

Publication date: 08/04/2014

Let's Stop Meeting Like This
More effective meetings!
  • Powerful promise: This book shows how meetings can become energizing, enjoyable places where concrete plans are made, tasks are accomplished, connections are strengthened, and projects move forward.
  • Universal solution: The authors have worked with all kinds of organizations-businesses, nonprofits, universities, governments, and more.

Most people regard meetings as places where productivity goes to die. But in this book, leading consultants Dick and Emily Axelrod share a way to meet that enables you to get work done right there in the meeting, an approach they've spent thirty years field testing. Using the same work-design principles that transformed the mind-numbing assembly line into the dynamic factory floor and make video games so engaging, they offer a flexible, repeatable process that has already been used to run thousands of productive meetings in all kinds of organizations.

The Axelrods show how to design every aspect of a meeting-from the way you greet people at the beginning to how you sum up at the end-so that the experience will be energizing, rather than exhausting, and relevant and helpful to every participant. Dubbed the Meeting Canoe (since, like a canoe, it adapts to changing conditions and is a collective effort), this approach is a seismic shift in the way we view, use, and participate in meetings. The many current users of this system will never go back. Neither will you.

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Overview

More effective meetings!

  • Powerful promise: This book shows how meetings can become energizing, enjoyable places where concrete plans are made, tasks are accomplished, connections are strengthened, and projects move forward.
  • Universal solution: The authors have worked with all kinds of organizations-businesses, nonprofits, universities, governments, and more.

Most people regard meetings as places where productivity goes to die. But in this book, leading consultants Dick and Emily Axelrod share a way to meet that enables you to get work done right there in the meeting, an approach they've spent thirty years field testing. Using the same work-design principles that transformed the mind-numbing assembly line into the dynamic factory floor and make video games so engaging, they offer a flexible, repeatable process that has already been used to run thousands of productive meetings in all kinds of organizations.

The Axelrods show how to design every aspect of a meeting-from the way you greet people at the beginning to how you sum up at the end-so that the experience will be energizing, rather than exhausting, and relevant and helpful to every participant. Dubbed the Meeting Canoe (since, like a canoe, it adapts to changing conditions and is a collective effort), this approach is a seismic shift in the way we view, use, and participate in meetings. The many current users of this system will never go back. Neither will you.

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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - Dick Axelrod

Dick Axelrod co-founded The Axelrod Group, Inc., a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect large-scale organizational change. He now brings more than thirty-five years of consulting and teaching experience to his work, with clients including Boeing, Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson, Hewlett-Packard, and the NHS. Dick is faculty in Columbia University's Professional Program in Organization Development and the University of Chicago's Leadership Arts Program. He alaso serves on the board of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Dick authored Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations, and co-authored You Don't Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done, which the New York Times called ""the best of the current crop of books on this subject."" His latest e-book is How to Get People to Care About What You Find Important.



Visit Author Page - Emily Axelrod

Emily M. Axelrod is co-founder of The Axelrod Group, Inc. Emily and Richard contributed to The Change Handbook and The Flawless Consulting Fieldbook and Companion.

Who are Dick and Emily?Dick and Emily Axelrod have been together for more than forty-five years. They met in 1967 in Pusan, Korea, where Dick was serving in the US Army as a signal officer and Emily was teaching children at Pusan American High School. Friends often ask, “Was it like MASH?” MASH was not far from the truth. They soon fell in love and were married in September of 1968. Since then, they have raised two children, Heather and David, and became the doting grandparents of Zach and Andy. Along the way, they formed the Axelrod Group, Inc. in 1981, a consulting firm that pioneered using employee involvement to effect large‑scale organizational change. While they bring different perspectives to their work, they are totally aligned when it comes to wanting to leave the world a better place than they found it.What do you get when you combine Dick + Emily?During their life together, they have had many dinner conversations about the best way to improve the world. Dick has believed that if you could bring dignity into everyone’s work experience, where people knew their voices counted and their hearts and minds were engaged in the work, there would be positive impacts on families and ultimately the society as a whole.Emily would counter that the way to improve the world was to improve families because strong, healthy families are the cornerstone of society. With Dick and Emily, you get an unusual combination of a kid raised on Chicago’s South Side (Dick) and someone who brings her folksy southern wit and spirit to the work (Emily). You get the discipline of Dick’s engineering-based education from Purdue University and a master’s in business from the University of Chicago and Emily’s grounding in physical education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, along with the heart of a family therapist (master of social work) from Loyola University Chicago.Dick’s early experiences in his father’s model airplane factory and at General Foods—one of the first companies in America to use self-directed work teams—had a great impact on him. Emily’s roots in Wilmington, North Carolina, gave her a sense of community and how people in communities work together for the common good.Recognized worldwide, they have received awards from Benedictine University, the University of Chicago, and the Organization Development Network.Throughout the years they have shared what they know by teaching others at American University, Benedictine University, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago, to name a few." />

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Table of Contents

1. How to Get Your Work Done in Meetings

2. The Meeting Canoe

3. The Welcome

4. Connect People to Each Other and the Task

5. Discover the Way Things Are

6. Elicit People's Dreams

7. Decide

8. Attend to the End

9. First Aid for Meetings

10. Meeting Basics: Five Steps to Meeting Success

11. Leaders: Three Steps to Meeting Effectiveness

12. Contributors: Three Steps to Meeting Effectiveness

13. Facilitators: Three Steps to Meeting Effectiveness

14. Our Handoff to You

A Pocket Guide to Let's Stop Meeting Like This and more

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Excerpt

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This

CHAPTER 1

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HOW TO GET YOUR WORK DONE IN MEETINGS

If you look at the way we meet in organizations and communities across the country, you see a lot of presenters, a lot of podiums, and a lot of passive audiences. This reflects our naiveté in how to bring people together.

PETER BLOCK

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Have you ever fallen asleep on an airplane? Think about it. You are sleeping in a chair bolted to an aluminum frame, a few inches separating you from sixty-five-degree-below-zero (Fahrenheit) air, six miles up in the sky, going more than five hundred miles an hour. The information people share and the decisions engineers make in meetings at Boeing make this death-defying feat commonplace.

Eric Lindblad, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s 747 program, runs many of those meetings that allow you to sleep on planes. He has strong opinions about meetings. For one, he finds spending hour upon hour in crowded conference rooms a nightmare. He hates to see conference rooms full of “wall-hangers,” people who attend a meeting with no real purpose in mind. He really gets upset when he looks around the room and sees people whose body language indicates they would rather be anywhere else in the world. “Empty inside” is how Eric describes his experience in these meetings.

Eric believes the best way to lead change is to be out on the factory floor, working with production to implement needed changes, not in a stuffy conference room. Eric’s factory floor has fuselages, wings, tails, miles of cable, and seats. These parts come together in Renton, Washington, to make the finished product: a Boeing airplane.

Eric’s frustration with meetings started when he was working on the Boeing 737. That is when he came to his belief about how to lead change. He also realized his task required building teams, sharing information, and making decisions. Eric had to find a way to both be out on the floor and hold meetings.

Eric started by doing some simple math. He multiplied the number of people in his meetings by their average hourly rate and quickly realized that meetings are a very expensive form of communication. He also concluded that habits were behind a lot of meetings—for example, “We meet every Monday morning, no matter what.”

Eric dared to rethink his meetings completely

Eric sought to change these meeting habits by developing two criteria for determining whether to hold a meeting:

1. Is there a need to share information?

2. Does the information that needs to be shared require dialogue?

The answers would determine whether or not to hold a meeting.

Making sure the “right” people attended was next. He sought to eliminate all wall-hangers from his meetings. His attendance criteria limited attendance to people who

• Had information or knowledge to share

• Had decision-making authority

• Were vital to the issue at hand

Next he set about changing the culture of meetings

Eric sought to eliminate arriving late and leaving early. In consultation with his leadership team, he required all meetings within his organization to be scheduled to start five minutes before the hour and end five minutes after, no matter the length. Why? Because he found that people were scheduling meetings back-to-back with no time for transition. This made it impossible for attendees to get from one side of a cavernous assembly building to the other and be on time for the next meeting. We suspect the same holds true even in smaller office buildings.

Then Eric completely updated his approach to meetings

What Eric did next was extraordinary. He made all his meetings voluntary. There were no mandatory meetings on Eric’s watch. He wanted people to be there not because of threat or politics but because they wanted to be there.

He actually gave people permission to leave meetings that were not valuable. When he noticed people who looked like they would rather be somewhere else, he would ask them, “Would your time be better spent doing something else?” If the answer was yes or they didn’t have a good answer to the question, Eric would excuse them from the meeting—no repercussions.

Making meetings voluntary was Eric’s way of getting meeting feedback. If people stopped showing up to a particular meeting and Eric believed there was a need to meet, he then asked what people needed to make the meeting more effective.

Eric has been using his approach to meeting effectiveness for more than ten years, starting when he was a senior manager of structures engineering for the 737 airplane. Whenever Eric takes a new assignment, he says it usually takes a month for people to believe that he is serious about his approach to meetings.

What would happen if you made all of your meetings voluntary?

You may be like Eric, feeling that too many of the meetings you lead are time-wasting, energy-sapping affairs. Most may seem like useless gatherings endured at the expense of your “real work”—meetings that sabotage your organization’s goals and product while wasting human capital. You may be ready to imitate Eric and make your meetings voluntary. Are you shuddering? It could work, but only if you take a fresh look at meetings and update your approach. If you are ready to take the plunge, then you are reading the right book.

Even if you are not ready to make your meetings voluntary, you are still reading the right book. People always decide the extent to which they will be present in a meeting. If they don’t feel like they can leave, they leave in place; their bodies are present, but their minds are absent. No matter whether you make your meetings voluntary, people will still make choices about how much of themselves they bring to a meeting and how much of themselves they leave behind. You can influence that choice. We’ll show you how.

Getting your work done in meetings

Meetings can be places where people do meaningful work, make plans, reach decisions, make commitments, and grow and develop and where everyone decides to get behind a task. Meetings can be gatherings in which people look forward to participating, even though they don’t have the time, even though the e-mails keep coming, even though no one can pick up the slack while they attend.

Changing meetings from time wasting to time valued from energy sapping to energy producing, requires a different approach to designing, leading, and contributing in meetings. It means a change in direction. It means making new choices. We invite you to learn how to

• Transform meetings into productive work experiences using the same work design principles that transformed factory work and made video games engaging

• Identify the habits that work for and against energy-producing, time-valued meetings

• Identify the critical choices that meeting designers, leaders, and contributors make that transform meetings into productive work experiences

• Create a meeting environment where everyone puts their paddle in the water

A better way to paddle this stream

Prior to the 1970s, leaders viewed factory workers as extensions of the assembly line: interchangeable parts that required little training. These workers were expected to show up and do their job—no more, no less (Terkel 1972). This mind-set created an unprecedented level of dissatisfaction that resulted in autoworkers purposely sabotaging their product’s quality by placing defects into cars.

That all changed when companies such as Ford and GM introduced Quality of Work Life initiatives that featured quality circles, joint union-management improvement activities, and self-directed work teams. For the first time, systems went into place that supported employee participation in making workplace improvements. Factory workers found new freedom when, for the first time, any worker on the line could stop the line. The result: productivity soared, quality improved, and frequent sabotage of the work virtually disappeared. People learned new skills through cross training; they learned how to work together in ways they had never worked before. In some plants, employee groups scheduled production, handled their own discipline, created their own work schedules, and often worked without direct supervision.

Today’s popular work improvement processes, such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, stand on the shoulders of these earlier efforts. Now we take for granted that workers can contribute to the organization and, as a result, generate improvement ideas that benefit everyone. Leaders did not always think that way. What we have learned is that given the opportunity, people can make significant contributions to improving their organization’s productivity.

What do the factory and meetings have in common?

As workers did on those old factory floors, people often show up at meetings with low expectations. They don’t anticipate much will happen, they participate in decisions where the outcome has been predefined, they leave feeling that their time was wasted, and then at Starbucks and in the halls they complain about their energy-sapping, time-wasting meeting experience.

Because most meetings provide the mind-numbing experience of the assembly line, most people seek to reduce the pain by eliminating the number of meetings they attend and the time they spend in them. This is a human response. However, when you seek to eliminate meetings, you also eliminate the possibility of producing the innovative thinking, quality decisions, and collaboration and cooperation that can occur only when we meet. The choice, then, is to either

• Remove the pain by eliminating meetings

• Create more productive meetings

Why meetings are so energy draining

Emily is fond of telling about her experience with the PTA. She recalls a meeting to decide on the color of the cafeteria trays. The meeting dragged on for hours. In the end, the group did decide on a color: yellow. Fifteen skilled people spent hours on an inconsequential decision. Emily, frustrated by her experience, decided never to return.

You might ask why Emily, being the good consultant that she is, didn’t help the group reach a decision more effectively. Why didn’t she step in to end such mind-numbing discussion? The reason: she didn’t care. A meeting has meaning when you know that what you are doing is important, that the outcome will make a difference to you, to others, to the organization as a whole. What difference was the color of cafeteria trays likely to make?

You spend a lot of time in meetings: informal chats and huddles with your coworkers, as well as staff meetings, town halls, and major change initiatives. Some meetings take a few minutes; others are multiday affairs. Sometimes you meet with one other person; other times you meet with hundreds. Studies show that the amount of time spent in meetings varies by organization level, ranging from 20 percent to 70 percent of a day. In the United States alone, there are 11 million meetings daily (Koehn 2013). All of us are spending more time in meetings than we did five years ago, and this trend is expected to continue (Lee 2010).

As shown in table 1.1, meetings range from informal chats involving two people to large-group, multistakeholder meetings. The larger the meeting, the greater the need for structure. (We are using “structure” here to mean the systems that guide the meeting process so that people can do their work effectively.) As you add more and different people to the conversation, variety increases, which allows learning and innovation to occur. The degree of preparation also increases as you move from informal to more formal gatherings.

You put a lot of time and effort into meetings. The problem is that the effort is often misplaced. Any meeting includes three basic roles: leader, contributor, and facilitator. In some cases, a person with a formal organizational role may have the same role in the meeting. For example, the formal organization leader may be the discussion leader, or an HR person may be the facilitator. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Any meeting participant can lead the discussion, contribute, or facilitate the discussion. Table 1.2 identifies how these roles contribute to getting work done in meetings. They comprise an integrated whole, working to assure the meeting’s success.

Having one of these roles is not the same as effectively performing that role. Some leaders, contributors, and facilitators can actually work against the success of a meeting, as outlined in table 1.3.

Table 1.1 Where you spend your time

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Table 1.2 Meeting roles and responsibilities

Table 1.3 How leaders, contributors, and facilitators work against success

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Are you a meeting investor, beneficiary, or bystander?

No matter what role you play in a meeting, how you show up in that role is critical to the meeting’s success. Here are two examples. Our colleague Barbara Bunker is one of the most sought-after committee members at the University at Buffalo because in every meeting she attends, she invests in the meeting by asking herself what she can do to ensure the meeting’s success. If note taking is required, Barbara takes notes. If helping to resolve a conflict is required, she helps resolve the conflict. If the task is making sure everyone has a voice in the discussion, then that is what she does. Barbara’s investment helps ensure the meeting’s success.

Our editor, Steve Piersanti, takes a different approach. Prior to a meeting, he works to become a beneficiary by reviewing the agenda and asking himself two questions: “What can I contribute?” and “What can I gain?” His answers to these questions prepare him to be an active meeting participant. He answers the question, “Who am I here for?” by saying, “I’m here for myself and I’m here for others.” By contributing to the success of the meeting, Steve makes sure he is there for the larger group. By figuring out what he can gain, he makes sure that he meets his own needs.

In both cases, Barbara and Steve plan not just for the meeting but how they will show up in the meeting. They take responsibility for ensuring that the meeting is worthwhile, not just for themselves, but also for everyone present.

Barbara and Steve provide great examples of how you can invest in and benefit from a meeting. Being an investor in the meeting’s success means choosing to work for the good of the whole. Being a beneficiary requires you to work toward creating value for yourself. Together they are a powerful combination.

You can also choose to be a bystander. Bystanders don’t invest in the meeting’s success, nor do they work to achieve benefit from the meeting. They stand on the sidelines like the wall-hangers at Boeing, hoping something useful will happen. By making this decision they ensure the meeting goes nowhere. The choice to invest in or benefit from the meeting is a decision to work toward the meeting’s success. The choice to be a bystander is a decision to work for the meeting’s failure. What choice will you make in your next meeting?

Toward a more productive meeting

Everyone knows that effective meetings have a purpose and an agenda, and everyone knows you need more than these. Too much of the advice about improving meetings only offers boxes of Band-Aids. Instead, in the coming chapters, we will describe a seismic shift in the way to think about, plan, and execute meetings—no Band-Aids.

We will show you how to change the meeting experience from dread to engagement, from something you suffer through to something you find appealing. Whether you are a leader, contributor, or facilitator, success will require you to change the way you perceive, plan, and participate in meetings.

Success starts with conceiving of meetings as places where everyone does productive work. It means creating meetings where everyone feels responsible for the outcomes. These meetings carry five electrical charges (Csikszentmihalyi 1997; Emery and Trist 1960; Hackman and Oldham 1976)

• Autonomy

• Meaning

• Challenge

• Learning

• Feedback

You can imagine our surprise when Colin Anderson, CEO of Denki, the company that created the award-winning video game Quarrel, approached us at a workshop we conducted and excitedly told us that these principles are similar to the principles his design team employs. We soon learned that the extent to which autonomy, meaning, challenge, learning, and feedback are present determines whether a player becomes engaged in playing a game. If you are thinking these are outdated principles that apply only to the factory floor, you are mistaken.

Now imagine how easily the elements of video games could transfer to meetings (table 1.4).

Judy Weber-Lucas, a senior organization development consultant, shared with us how she went from dreading meetings to actually looking forward to them. Here is her story in her own words:

I once had a client, Ken Aruda at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maryland, who invited me to his weekly staff meetings. At first I dreaded them, but after experiencing his facilitation style, I actually looked forward to being a part of meetings where things got done.

Here’s how it worked:

Table 1.4 How elements of video games can transfer to meetings

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1. Leader agenda items. The leader would arrive ten minutes early and record his items for the agenda on a whiteboard.

2. Team member agenda items. As team members arrived, they would add their agenda items to the whiteboard list. They arrived a couple of minutes early, knowing the meeting would start on time.

3. Time estimates. Once the meeting began, the leader would review the list and ask the agenda item owners to predict the number of minutes it would take to cover their topic. He wrote the number of minutes to the left of each agenda item.

4. Priority order. To assure the most important items got full coverage, he asked the team to prioritize the list of items from the most important to the least important. He recorded the priority order to the right of each agenda item.

5. Timekeeper and recorder. The leader asked for a volunteer to keep the team on task, according to the times allotted. The leader also asked for a volunteer to record conclusions and decisions made on each topic. Each topic needed only one or two sentences.

6. Items that run out of time. If an item warranted more than the predicted number of minutes, the leader would ask how much more time might be needed to complete the topic. Based on this prediction, he asked the group members if they were willing to allow more time immediately, at the end of the meeting, or at the next staff meeting.

The team decision determined the next step for this particular topic.

7. Closing. The leader asked the recorder to review the conclusions and decisions made for each topic to ensure team members knew their commitments.

Despite the time it took to set up the process at the beginning of the meeting, it ended up being a good use of team members’ time because they were “getting things done.” (Weber-Lucas 2013)

Autonomy was present in this meeting because people had control over what the group discussed and the discussion’s length. Meaning occurred when people discussed issues that were important to them. Challenge was present in the topics they addressed as well as an agenda that worked for all. Learning occurred as people addressed the topics. And feedback was provided as they reviewed the outcomes of the meeting. As a result of investing in the meeting, everyone benefited.

While her client did not have the benefit of knowing these principles or the Meeting Canoe system, Judy believes he came up with an approach that intuitively incorporated both.

Meeting success requires incorporating these concepts as we take a ride in the Meeting Canoe, our system for creating meetings where productive work happens. In the next chapter we’ll show you how. Before we do, we’d like you to ponder the following question.

Are meetings keystone habits?

Charles Duhigg has identified what he calls keystone habits: habits so powerful that if you change them, the whole organization changes. When Paul O’Neill became Alcoa’s CEO, he decided his number-one priority was to change safety habits throughout the organization. He modeled this when he began his first speech as CEO by informing people where the exit doors were and what they should do in case of an emergency. To everyone’s surprise, he never once talked about his profitability or productivity goals. Throughout his presidency he focused on changing safety habits because he believed they were the keystone to productivity improvement. In doing so, he changed Alcoa into both a profit machine and a safety exemplar (Duhigg 2012).

We invite you to consider meetings keystone habits. What might happen if you changed the way you meet? What ripple effects might occur throughout your organization? What difference would changing your meeting habits make? Could it be that focusing on meetings is similar to focusing on safety? Starting with Eric Lindblad and throughout this book, we will show you how to change the way you meet and the dramatic changes that can occur as a result. Our journey continues in the following chapter.

KEY POINTS

• Making meetings voluntary and treating meeting participants as volunteers will make you rethink your approach to meetings.

• Meetings range in size from two-person chats to large-scale

• Leader, contributor, and facilitator are roles critical to any meeting’s success.

• Meeting investors and beneficiaries work for the meeting’s success, while bystanders contribute to its failure.

• Effective meetings carry the electrical charges of autonomy, meaning, challenge, learning, and feedback.

• Meetings can be considered keystone habits.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

• Try making meetings in your organization voluntary.

• Treat meeting participants as if they were volunteers.

• Identify the role you play in a meeting as leader, contributor, or facilitator. Ask yourself how well your role contributes to the meeting’s success.

• Decide how you will show up at your next meeting. Will you be a meeting investor, beneficiary, or bystander?

• Build autonomy, meaning, challenge, learning, and feedback into your next meeting.

CHAPTER 2

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THE MEETING CANOE

We meet because people holding different jobs have to cooperate to get a specific task done. We meet because the knowledge and experience needed in a specific situation are not available in one head, but have to be pieced together out of the knowledge and experience of several people.

PETER DRUCKER

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You’ve already seen us refer to the Meeting Canoe as a system. This is a great time for us to tell you why we use that language.

The Meeting Canoe (Axelrod et al. 2004) is a complete rethinking of the meeting design, execution, and follow-up; it frames meetings as the factory floor for knowledge workers. Can you imagine getting substantial work done during meetings? It can and does happen in organizations that use the Meeting Canoe. Let’s unpack that “system” claim. The Meeting Canoe is a system because

• The Meeting Canoe’s parts influence each other. How connected people feel directly impacts how they understand the way things are, their ability to dream about the future, and the decisions they make.

• The Meeting Canoe interacts with its environment as the crew adapts to changing conditions.

• No single part is effective without the other parts.

• How well the Meeting Canoe functions depends on how well the parts work together.

Compare the Meeting Canoe with another water vehicle: a wooden raft. As a young Girl Scout, Emily and her fellow scouts made wooden rafts by lashing logs together and then climbed aboard for a lazy drift down the Cape Fear River. Drifting along without a care in the world on a hot, steamy day, Emily and her friends found that scouting for water moccasins, alligators, and the occasional dragonfly made for a great summer. A wooden raft is fine for drifting along when you don’t care where you are going and time is no object. Contrast this with a canoe, where you care where you are going, time matters, and your crew controls the direction. We think too many meetings are rafts when they could be canoes.

Using the Meeting Canoe system, you can truly transform meetings, not just tweak them. It is one thing to opine that everyone in the room has responsibility for the outcome, but it’s something else completely to structure and run a meeting entirely on that basis and give participants specific instructions about their role in meetings.

The Meeting Canoe (fig. 2.1) gives order, shape, and flow to your meetings. It represents a conversation that opens and closes. It starts at its narrowest part by welcoming people into the meeting and then connects people to each other and the task. As the conversation widens, so does the Meeting Canoe. It helps people discover the way things are and elicits their dreams for the future. At this point, you are at the widest part of the canoe. When you know the way things are and the future you want to create, the most possibilities exist. The approach supports effective decision making. As you make decisions, you abandon some alternatives, narrowing the conversation and at the same time allowing new possibilities to emerge for how to implement your decisions. The Meeting Canoe narrows further as you attend to the end so that everyone is clear about what you have all decided and learned from the meeting experience.

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Figure 2.1 Parts of the Meeting Canoe

The Meeting Canoe consists of six parts. They are

Welcome people. In this part, you greet people and begin to create an atmosphere that is conducive to doing the meeting’s work.

Connect people to each other and the task. The goal here is to create two levels of connection. The first level is building relationships between meeting participants. The second level is connecting meeting participants to the task at hand.

Discover the way things are. In this part, you engage people in learning for themselves about the current situation.

Elicit people’s dreams. The goal here is to have participants imagine their preferred future unencumbered by current reality.

Decide. In this part, people make decisions about what they want to do based on the way things are and their dreams, in accordance with the decision-making process identified prior to the meeting.

Attend to the end. The goal here is to bring closure to the meeting by reviewing the decisions made, identifying the next steps, and reflecting on the meeting process.

The Meeting Canoe brought to you by hundreds of learners, a smart ski instructor, and Fortune 100 companies

Imagine this: you’ve just paid $525 for a private ski lesson and you are standing at the base of the mountain with your instructor, ready to go. It’s ten degrees Fahrenheit, the wind is howling, and the clock is ticking. In front of you stands a big guy with a scraggly beard who looks more like a river raft guide (which he is as well) than a ski instructor.

Dave starts the lesson by welcoming you to the Breckenridge Ski School and asking you how long you’ve been skiing, where you are from, and how long you will be in Breckenridge. Next he seamlessly shifts the conversation to your current abilities, what you do well, and what you’d like to be able to do better. Soon the conversation moves to what you hope to accomplish, not just in today’s lesson. Dave is soon formulating a plan for your development.

Do you feel that your time is being wasted? No, you feel that you are no longer just another skier going through the lesson mill. You are the recipient of a custom-designed ski lesson. Soon you are off, gliding down the slopes, learning gems that take your skiing to a whole new level, and having the time of your life. Three hours later, Dave takes the time to review with you what you have learned and provides you with a plan for applying today’s lesson.

By applying the Meeting Canoe approach, our ski instructor, Dave, went from being a frequently requested ski instructor to being the number-one-ranked ski instructor at Breckenridge. Seeing Dave’s success, his envious buddies asked what his secret was. Dave, being the kind soul that he is, taught them the Meeting Canoe approach, which allowed his buddies to rise in the rankings as well. This is important because ski instructors’ pay increases when people specifically request them. In this case, Dave wins because he gets more pay plus satisfied clients who not only come back but also refer him to their friends. The company wins because it gets more revenue and more satisfied customers. Most importantly, the clients win because they become better skiers.

Prior to using the Meeting Canoe, Dave would have a cursory chat with a student prior to embarking on a lesson. Once he started using the Meeting Canoe system, he would spend time welcoming the student and connecting with the student prior to the start of the lesson. He would help the student discover the way things are by doing a skill assessment and talk with the student about what he or she hoped to accomplish— the student’s dreams. Together they would decide on a plan for the lesson. Following the lesson, instead of saying a quick thank-you, Dave would attend to the end by reviewing the lesson and offering further suggestions for cementing the lesson.

An unintended consequence of our teaching the Meeting Canoe approach for large-scale change was that people picked it up and began to use it to frame ordinary meetings. The most surprising learning came from the guy you just met, our son Dave. At the time, Dave was a professional ski instructor in Breckenridge, Colorado. One day Emily was talking with him and he said, “You know that Meeting Canoe that you and Dad developed? Well, I’ve been using it as a system for conducting my ski lessons.” And now you know the rest of the story.

The Meeting Canoe guides your conversations

The Meeting Canoe template represents a conversation a group has during the course of a meeting, no matter the length. The conversation starts with the welcome. A good welcome helps people make the transition from the world outside the meeting to the world inside the meeting. It’s similar to the entryway in your house or apartment that helps people make the transition from the outside world into your home. We spend time creating a welcoming environment because productive meetings are rooted in safety. Creating a safe-enough environment to do the meeting’s work begins with a good welcome.

Having created a welcoming environment, you next connect people to each other and the task. This is important on two levels. Personal connection builds the trust necessary to do the work, and connection to the task unleashes energy. These first two sections of the Meeting Canoe—welcome and connect people to each other and the task—build the foundation for effective work during the meeting (Lieberman 2013).

Next you discover the way things are. This is the first action step. Meeting participants come to the meeting with varying understandings of the reality they are addressing. In this step, they build a shared understanding of the reality they are facing.

When you elicit people’s dreams, you ask meeting participants to imagine their preferred future. In this step, you conceive of a future worth having. Opportunities emerge that were not present before.

These two parts of the conversation, discover the way things are and elicit people’s dreams, contain great power. That is why they represent the widest part of the Meeting Canoe. At the widest point, the most options are present. When you are clear about the way things are and you are clear about the future you want to create, you literally see things you didn’t see before (Fritz 1999).

Have you ever noticed that when you are about to purchase a new car, you see the car you would like to purchase everywhere? Those cars have always been out there. However, when you are clear about the way things are—your car no longer works or you are tired of your current car, and you know that you want a new car—your brain lets in new information. That is why you see the car you want to purchase everywhere.

Spending time discovering the way things are and eliciting people’s dreams provides a rich menu of choices for the group. Rushing these two steps shortchanges the group. Spending too much time wears the group down. If you focus only on discovering the way things are, the group loses energy because the task seems overwhelming. If you focus only on your dreams, it is easy to become Pollyannaish. Energy builds toward completion when you are clear about the way things are and you know the future you want to create.

Having created a rich menu of possibilities, you must now decide. There are many ways to make decisions in groups. We’ll talk more about this in chapter 7. The most important point about this part of the conversation is to be clear about the decision-making method you will use. Nothing is worse in a meeting than to think you were participating in a group decision-making process and then find out that the decision was predetermined.

When the group makes a decision, it reaches a fork in the road. The act of deciding eliminates some options and opens up other options for how you will implement the decision you have reached.

The last stage of the conversation is to attend to the end. Many meetings rush or overlook this part. A good ending is a new beginning. It builds energy for future actions. Attending to the end gives people a clear understanding of the decisions reached and identifies next steps, thus serving as a springboard for the future.

Working your way from the front to the back of the Meeting Canoe

As you work your way from welcome to attend to the end in the Meeting Canoe, it is important to realize that what you do in one section of the Meeting Canoe impacts the others. For example, when people enter the meeting and experience your welcome, that experience becomes the input for the next section. What happens when you connect people to each other and the task becomes the input for discovering the way things are. In each section, you are working with content issues and emotional issues. So what you discuss and your experience discussing it directly impact what happens in the next section of the canoe.

Figure 2.2 gives you a visual of the process, which is summarized below.

• Inputs are the state in which people arrive at a section of the Meeting Canoe.

• Conversations are interactions that take place during the meeting.

• Outputs are the results.

• Purpose is your intent for this section of the canoe.

Image

Figure 2.2 Inputs/outputs

The Meeting Canoe works in very different situations

In chapter 1, we identified the different ways people meet— everything from informal chats to formal work sessions. Tables 2.1 through 2.5 show you how these different meetings might look when you apply the Meeting Canoe system.

Chats and Huddles

Chats and huddles (tables 2.1 and 2.2) are informal. In these cases, the Meeting Canoe runs as background in your mind as you participate in these conversations.

Table 2.1 Chat

Role

Responsibilities

Leader

Convenes the meeting; assures that the purpose for meeting is clear and compelling and that the right people are present

Leads the meeting, making sure the group stays on task

Contributor

Offers the ideas and participates in the discussion

Brings needed information to the meeting or acts in a way that facilitates the group’s working effectively

Facilitator

Assists the group in achieving its purpose

Takes responsibility for timekeeping or posting information on smart boards

Facilitates discussion by making sure the participants’ voices count and helping to resolve conflicts that may occur

Table 2.2 Huddle

Welcome

Offer a simple greeting.

Connect people to each other and the task

Share what’s on your mind.

Discover the way things are

Listen to the other person.

Elicit people’s dreams

Talk about what you would like to have happen. Ask the other person what he or she would like to have happen.

Decide

Agree on further actions.

Attend to the end

Say good-bye and thank the other person for listening.

Staff Meetings

Regular staff meetings benefit from the Meeting Canoe system because it provides a meeting structure (table 2.3). When you meet regularly, it’s easy to get sloppy because you know people and you know the work. In these cases, many people forget about welcoming, connecting to each other and the task, and attending to the end. In our desire to get to work, we overlook our need to connect and provide closure. Using the Meeting Canoe to create your agenda helps you avoid these pitfalls. As you will learn later, it’s also possible to devote individual meetings to single Meeting Canoe elements so that, over time, you cover the whole system.

Table 2.3 Staff meeting

Welcome

Greet newcomers and explain how the huddle works.

Connect people to each other and the task

Share the huddle’s purpose.

Discover the way things are

Ask each person two questions: What do you plan to work on this week? What help or support do you need?

Elicit people’s dreams

Share what you would like to have happen.

Decide

Agree on actions to take based on the discussion.

Attend to the end

Review the agreements and commitments made.

Town Halls

Many organizations use town hall meetings as a way for leaders to interact with organization members and share information and dialogue about current issues. While well intended, many town halls become one-way conversations by the leader with little time left for dialogue. Table 2.4 shows what a town hall meeting looks like when you apply the Meeting Canoe system.

Work Sessions

Increasingly, organizations bring important stakeholders together from within and outside the organization to address critical business issues. In these sessions, people from all levels of the organization work together to improve processes and design new products and services. For-profit and not-for-profit organizations use work sessions to create their preferred future. Standard work sessions go by the names of Future Search, Open Space, Whole-Scale Change, the Appreciative Inquiry Summit, and Lift-Off. The Meeting Canoe system works with them all, giving you a way to custom design your work session without holding you prisoner of a specific methodology.

How a Fortune 100 Company Uses the Meeting Canoe to Integrate Different Methodologies

John Bader, the leader of a customer enterprise services organization, had a problem. He was determined to deeply involve his six thousand people in redesigning the organization to improve efficiency and customer service. He also wanted to use what on the surface seemed like two competing concepts: Jay Galbraith’s Star Model and Judith Katz and Fred Miller’s Inclusion Model (Galbraith 2005; Miller and Katz 2002). His consultants were telling him he needed a two-and-a-half-day process to do the design work. That was unacceptable to John. John asked his design team to create a one-day process that would accomplish his goals. Using the Meeting Canoe as their template, John’s design team was able to create a one-day process that was delivered in eighteen different locations. The result: John estimates his return on investment for this work to be in excess of fifteen times, and his organization is providing superior customer service (Bader 2009).

Table 2.4 Town hall

Welcome

Prior to the meeting, solicit input to the meeting design and agenda from contributors.

Be a good host and welcome people as they enter the room.

Prepare materials and the room to support the work.

Work at a round table wherever possible.

Connect people to each other and the task

Ask participants to discuss, When it comes to this meeting’s purpose, what do you care about and why? Or what will success at this meeting require of you?

Discover the way things are

Depending on the agenda item and/or participant, share information or engage in dialogue to understand the current state.

Ask contributors to do research prior to the meeting and share their results during the meeting.

Elicit people’s dreams

Discuss what you would like to create as a result of participating in this meeting or what you would like to create as a result of discussing a particular agenda item.

Decide

Agree on actions to take based on the issues and decision-making process identified prior to the start of the meeting.

Attend to the end

Review the decisions and commitments made.

Review everyone’s roles going forward.

Create your road map for going forward.

Discuss whether this meeting was time well spent: How can we strengthen those things that contributed to making this meeting time well spent? What do we need to do differently?

John’s group did not have the benefit of this book, nor were the members formally trained in the Meeting Canoe. They had just heard about the model.

How the Meeting Canoe Accelerates Change

When you walk into the organizational effectiveness (OE) group offices at this same company, what stands out are the meeting rooms. Floor-to-ceiling whiteboards are covered with work in progress. Writing from red, black, blue, and green dry erase markers covers the walls, and in some rooms you will find a hand-drawn Meeting Canoe sketch. “Having the Meeting Canoe graphic on the wall helps keep us on track during meetings. The shape lets us know where we are in the meeting and how much time we should be spending in each part of the canoe. The Meeting Canoe gives us a common language when we are working with each other,” reports Angie Keister, organizational effectiveness consultant.

We are used to driving communications from top to bottom and expecting people to get it. Recently, a senior leadership team asked us to design a day-and-a-half meeting for the top leaders of the organization. Frontline leaders were to attend a similar session one week later. In all, four hundred people were to attend the first two sessions, and fifteen hundred people needed to receive this important information. When Kim Gallagher Johnson [OE group director] and I met to plan this work, the Meeting Canoe was top of mind. It didn’t matter if we were conducting a planning meeting with senior executives or a workshop with frontline leaders. We even taught the walkthru design team the Meeting Canoe approach. In turn, they used it to design their local sessions.

Our leaders readily take to the Meeting Canoe because it is so easy to understand. We were able to transform a top-down process into a high-engagement set of activities. Along the way, our leaders learned a new way to design and conduct productive meetings.” (Keister 2013)

Just think what you might be able to accomplish.

Work sessions are longer workshop-like sessions designed to address a specific issue. Table 2.5 applies the Meeting Canoe to work sessions.

Table 2.5 Work session

Welcome

Form a design team made up of a microcosm of the participants to help you design the town hall.

Be a good host and welcome people as they enter the room.

Prepare materials, technology, and the room to support the work.

Make microphones available so that everyone can be heard.

Work at round tables wherever possible.

Connect people to each other and the task

Ask participants to discuss, What question or concern do you bring to this meeting that needs to be addressed?

Clarify the meeting’s purpose and identify key topics you will discuss.

Discover the way things are

Present information to the group.

Ask participants, What did you hear? What do you want to know more about?

Elicit people’s dreams

Discuss what you would like to create as a result of participating in this meeting.

Decide

Agree on actions to take based on the issues and decision-making process identified prior to the start of the meeting.

Attend to the end

Review key points from the meeting.

Identify the road map for going forward.

Discuss whether this meeting was time well spent: How can we strengthen those things that contributed to making this meeting time well spent? What do we need to do differently?

Why, how, and when a global media conglomerate uses the Meeting Canoe

“The more you use the Meeting Canoe, the more you understand its power,” says Chuck Mallue, an organization development consultant for a global media giant. “We started out by using the Meeting Canoe as a design template for work sessions, meetings that can run anywhere from two hours to several days. Now the approach even influences everyday meetings.”

Here are four reasons why, in Chuck’s own words:

1. Our leaders recognize a good meeting when they see it. People approach meeting effectiveness thinking about agendas, time management, norms, and ground rules. These are all meeting elements, but they’re all very tactical and short-term. The Meeting Canoe gives you a set of meeting design principles that provide a holistic system. Meeting planners design agendas. When you work with the Meeting Canoe, you design a complete experience.

2. Innovation and creativity are hallmarks of our organization. We try to be creative, we try to be innovative, we tell stories; we use the Meeting Canoe because it fits our culture. The Meeting Canoe image, its simplicity and smooth flow, make sense to us. People get it. They can apply it immediately.

3. The Meeting Canoe has changed the way we design virtual meetings so they’re more like face-to-face meetings. The problem with virtual meetings is you’re missing the personal, authentic, visceral experience that happens when you meet with somebody using all your senses. It’s so much more difficult to understand what is going on with people when you meet virtually. The Meeting Canoe forces you to make sure you’re paying proper attention to each stage of the meeting.

4. These virtual or in-person gatherings connect people around the globe and are an expensive proposition. Periodically, we need to bring people together to think about what is going on today and what is happening in the world. Whether we meet virtually or in person, for two hours or several days, there is work to do and people need to feel productive doing it. You have to get the design right. That happens when we use the Meeting Canoe. (Mallue 2013)

How does Chuck use it?

Some work sessions are local and some are global. We use the Meeting Canoe to design work sessions for creating new organizations and to address a variety of business issues.

When I’m working with an HR partner to design a work session, we talk explicitly about each element of the Meeting Canoe as we go through the design process. If I’m working with line clients, it’s fifty-fifty as to whether we talk explicitly about the canoe. If they like metaphors, are creative, and are visually oriented, it’s easy to talk them through the canoe and even draw it for them. I’ll say, “Hey, this is how we’re thinking about the major elements of this work and how the sequence might be.”

If they’re a little less oriented toward metaphors and graphics, then the Meeting Canoe becomes a conversation checklist that identifies the things we want to consider to make sure everybody’s comfortable and engaged in the work. Some of our internal clients never know we are using the Meeting Canoe. What they do know is that their meetings are better when they work with us. (Mallue 2013)

When does he use it?

The funny thing is that once you get this model in your head, you begin to apply it to everyday meetings as well. You may not apply all the elements in every meeting. You might spend a meeting connecting people to each other and the task or discovering the way things are. But over time, you cover the whole canoe. (Mallue 2013)

Just put your canoe in the water and start paddling. That’s Chuck’s advice.

In the coming pages, you will learn how the Meeting Canoe’s components work as we devote a chapter to each canoe element. See you there.

KEY POINTS

• The Meeting Canoe is a system, a complete rethinking of the design, execution, and follow-up of meetings.

• By using the Meeting Canoe, leaders, contributors, and facilitators can truly transform meetings, not just tweak them.

• The Meeting Canoe provides an easy-to-understand structure for running meetings where everyone feels responsible for the outcomes.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

• Using the Meeting Canoe system, analyze the really good and really bad meetings you attend.

• Identify how the Meeting Canoe supports meeting effectiveness.

• Identify how the absence of the Meeting Canoe hinders meeting effectiveness.

• Use the Meeting Canoe system to design an upcoming meeting.

• Use the Meeting Canoe system as you prepare for an important conversation or meeting presentation.

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Endorsements

"Rather than waste time in and get mad at meetings, read this book and learn how to make meetings more productive and pleasurable."

-Edgar H. Schein, Professor Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management, and author, most recently, of Humble Inquiry

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Welcome

Form a design team made up of a microcosm of the participants to help you design the work session.

Be a good host and welcome people as they enter the room.

If there is assigned seating, help people find their seats.

Prepare materials, technology, and the room to support the work.

Make microphones available so that everyone can be heard.

Work at round tables wherever possible.

Create a welcoming environment by working in a room with natural light and providing healthy snacks.

Connect people to each other and the task

Identify the meeting’s purpose.

Ask participants to discuss any of these questions:

• Why did you say yes to attending this meeting?

• What strength or gift do you bring to this meeting?

• What are your hopes or fears about this meeting?

• What will success require of you in this meeting?

• What is important to you about the topic being discussed and why?

Discover the way things are

Ask participants to teach each other about what their function does and how it works.

Use panel discussions.

Ask participants to conduct interviews prior to the session and share results during the session.

Elicit people’s dreams

Discuss what is important to you about the topic at hand.

Talk about the future as if it were the present.

Use the arts to engage the right side of the brain.

Build in breaks and times for reflection so that insights can emerge.

Decide

Agree on actions to take based on the issues and decision-making process identified prior to the start of the work session.

Identify who will make the decisions, and what you will be deciding.

Attend to the end

Review the decisions and commitments made.

Review participants’ respective roles going forward.

Create your road map for going forward.

Ask for simple commitments: What can you do to move the process forward during the next thirty days?

Discuss whether this meeting was time well spent: How can we strengthen those things that