One reason I like to know objectives for meetings, purposes of products and services, or values of a group engaging in some endeavor is so I can assess for myself how we are doing. Are we headed toward the solution to a problem? Will this gizmo make the work easier or my life better? What’s our benchmark for success?
Business administrators are generally very aware of the numbing meetings we attend. We sit around tables for hours a week with paper or screens before us, then way too often exit the meeting room muttering about the use of our time. With names like Weekly Check-In, Leadership Team Report, or Project Managers’ Update, these hours devoted to getting around tables are sometimes not worth the effort to come to work.
There are great meetings, to be sure, but most don’t deliver on what they could.
- Is the time spent meeting congruent with the deliverables? I sometimes look around a room, count the number of participants, estimate their annual incomes, divide by 2000 (the rounded number of hours worked in a year), multiply by 1.25 (the rounded estimate for fringe benefits), and calculate how much the meeting costs in salaries and benefits.
- Are the people in the room actually meeting? In other words, does the level of interactive behaviors among those present actually allow them to meet one another as humans and as colleagues?
- Is problem-solving going on? Even in report format meetings, those present can be updating each other on their movement toward goals, pointing out challenges, and stating their proposed fixes.
- Is there evidence of an underlying change theory? For years I went to meetings listening for signs of the Stages of Change Theory by Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente. I frequently noticed the much more popular This-is-hard-people-are-stupid-we-try-anyway-and-then-we-die-Model.
- How are approximations of success being celebrated or reinforced? I sometimes imagine the group coaching toddlers taking their first steps. Would they be yelling, “Yeah!” Or, would this be the gang sarcastically snickering, “Nice try, doofus.”
The same sorts of questions can be made about the purpose of products and services. Does this actually make my work easier? Is my work overly taxing now? Do I enjoy it? What do I actually want and does this service deliver on that? Is it durable? If I don’t actually like or use it, can I take it back?
Group values are similar. I recently completed a four-month project addressing sexuality education. The staff involved were amazingly organized and thoughtful. They listened and responded to the thoughts and interests of many stakeholders in the group. By statute there were many things the staff needed to do, but achieving these goals was consistently balanced with being congruent with their values of meaningful community participation, sound reasoning, and courtesy. In the end, widely differing opinions in the room could come together, not because staff mediated differences, but because they trusted that their values would help us find our way. They were right.
This week as I write about criticism, I have been struck by how much I rely on it and what little awareness we seem to have about criticism in action.