The world is experiencing disruption on a global scale through the CV19 pandemic. You might have noticed?
Stating the obvious aside, it’s broadly being recognised that this disruption creates the potential for us to rethink how we live, how we work together, how we exist on this planet.
We believe that the application of behavioural sciences – our skills in relational work; our ability to work with complex systems; our expertise in sustainable change; all underpinned by humane values and social justice – make us more relevant now than ever.
But where do we start? What are the priorities when the world is so complex and the challenges so great? It can feel overwhelming.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given who we are, we believe that the answer lies in meeting.
Groups are where it’s at. They are the fundamental units of work and change, and the spaces where groups do work together and make change happen, is in meetings.
Gazillions of meetings: happening all the time, everywhere.
If leaders and managers committed to developing their group-working capability, not only would our workplaces be more effective and fulfilling, but we would develop the broader cultural norms needed to solve the complex challenges of our world today.
Yes, we really believe it’s as simple, and as radical, as that!
Let’s take a closer look…
At the moment, as well as the CV19 pandemic, there is a plague of dreadful online meetings taking over the world. The tyranny of our dreadful meetings is even making headline news in the mainstream media: Pilita Clark’s article in the Financial Times in December 2020 talked about ‘tackling the virus of bad meetings’ and the Handford Parish Council meeting, with poor Jackie Weaver trying to facilitate the toxic behaviours, went viral on Twitter and made headline news across the world.
We know that these are not isolated incidents, which is what makes them noteworthy. CV19 has revealed many issues in our organisations and society. Amongst other things, virtual working for such a long period has revealed the lack of skill and intentionality given to group work and the resulting negative impact that people are having to endure.
When we go into organisations to talk about improving how people meet, we are usually met with requests for practical tools and techniques for better meetings. We’ve learnt that this is a trap. There are thousands of meeting tools and techniques available in the world, but the issue is that there are systemic forces against using them with skill and intention to support effective group work and against leaders becoming effective conveners. If we want to sustainably develop our effectiveness in groups then we need to tackle these systemic issues behaviourally, not just provide meeting tools.
When we talk about systemic forces, we mean cultural norms like individualism, deference to hierarchy, conformism, egotism. These norms play out as fractals in the patterns of our meetings. Each meeting is a microcosm of the whole where, to the trained eye, we can see these norms play out, and, with skill and intention, we can change them.
Meetings, therefore, hold huge power not only for groups to do good work together, but for us to observe and identify our patterns of behaviour and to change those behavioural patterns that are not serving us well.
Each time we meet we can create an experience of a different way of working together; a lived experience of connection, collaboration and learning together, which is still so rare in our society today.
At the moment there is a lack of awareness of the power of meeting. Through our 22 years in business, we have been part of hundreds of management and leadership initiatives. We have never come across an organisation where there has been a sustained, whole-scale focus on leaders or managers becoming skilled in group work.
Convening groups is an act of service on behalf of the group.
It places collective performance ahead of individual performance in a way that isn’t valued in most organisations, where individual performance is systemically rewarded. Therefore, in the busy world we live and work in, even if they recognise the need, there is little incentive for leaders and managers to invest the time and effort needed to develop their group capability.
It requires time and effort because groups are complex and working with groups takes skill, initiated with intention and practiced with commitment, not tips and tricks.
We also know that just providing facilitators to support groups, whilst it mitigates the lack of skill in the system, does not foster learning in the group or the leadership. It is a short-term fix to the problem. All of this means that, when effort and energy is put into meetings, it tends to be invested in content production and entertainment rather than the skill of designing processes that support people to share their different perspectives, synthesise these into collective wisdom, and ignite the passion and responsibility that leads to action.
Gaining whole-scale commitment to changing how we meet across an organisation can be hard to achieve.
However, the beauty of addressing group-working through meetings is that meetings happen every day, all day, and we all have the power to change the meetings we lead and attend, if we choose to.
Each of us has the power to meet differently in any meetings we are part of, and thereby play a valuable role in shifting the norms that dominate our society, that limit our ability to work together, and therefore limit our democratic ability to find and exercise our agency to improve the world we live in.