Tag Archives: feedback

Not more advice on meetings: part 2

Factors and suggestions

In my previous article, Not more advice on meetings part 1, I identified how advice on meetings has become dislocated from reality.

For thirty years I have designed and facilitated sessions that have delivered great benefits to all those involved.  I am now asking: Why is it that so many meetings fail to achieve similar results?

I think there are two, closely related factors that contribute to the problems with most meetings:

  • The Boss
  • organisational culture.

The Boss

Most meetings are run by the manager.

This means they have triple, mutually exclusive, roles.  One role is to control the team, their direct reports; the second is to control the process of the meeting; and the third role is to contribute their personal ideas and to get these ideas heard.

Maintaining these three roles requires The Boss to become dominant.

Managers adopt a defensive behaviour when faced with so many people in one room at the same time.  Awkward issues are ignored.  The excuse is that they will take too long but the underlying problem is that The Boss fears losing control.

In an effort to keep the meeting on track (his track), the contributions of the individuals Jerwood room 1are suppressed, ignored and avoided.  Air time is dominated by one person or the most senior members.  No one else speaks.  Silence is taken as agreement.

The Boss will maintain that he (usually “he”) is democratic (everyone has an opportunity to contribute), and is consensual in his approach (silence means agreement.)  What this really means is that everyone has to agree with him.

During the meeting, individuals remain quiet and plot assassination attempts.  The meeting is a vitality vacuum, a coma inducing episode

Yet, in contrast, as soon as the attendees leave the meeting room, they burst into energetic conversation.  The ideas spill out – improvements, changes, how to make the plans better, what they would contribute if allowed to, who they know that might help….

What a waste.  Sow the seeds; abandon the crop.

Organisational culture

The second factor is related to the first factor and it is organisational culture.

Meetings develop a culture that reflects the most negative organisational aspects – tradition and hierarchy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Those who may challenge are told to keep quiet and are usually accused of being negative.  “Don’t you understand,” the argument goes, “that the purpose of a meeting is agreement?  If everybody disagrees the whole time, we will never achieve anything.”

This attitude totally undermines the collaborative purpose of a meeting.

Another aspect of meetings that reflects negative organisational culture is the criticism and rejection that greets new ideas.  An idea, when first floated, is often imperfect – there has not been time to think it through.  The generator of the idea may have identified something that the others have not and this person would now appreciate help in refining their idea.

The further characteristic of most meetings is that the amount of air time you are allowed and the perceived credibility of your contributions is in direct proportion to your grade and how long you have worked there.

Show us your scars; parade your medals.  Status trumps originality, the traditional is regurgitated, progress is stifled, stale air is recirculated.

The meeting becomes a prevention of the emergence of new ideas.

A consequence of this approach is that contributions are not welcomed outside your specific area of expertise.  So, not only are individuals encouraged not to communicate with each other but so, too, are whole departments.

This emphasises a silo mentality, eliminating the sharing of information and the generation of ideas across boundaries.

In conclusion, the hierarchical and bureaucratic culture of the organisation, plus the readiness of The Boss to reflect that culture is perpetuated in an activity the purpose of which is engagement and collaboration.

Let’s get to the bit you have been waiting for.Merthyr 3

Suggestions

To help overcome these challenges, I suggest two things:

  • attitude
  • feedback.

My first suggestion, an attitude, is: people must understand that the responsibility for the success of a meeting rests with all.

This is neither a skill nor a technique, but a high level unifying objective, a fundamental approach.  Everybody must understand this concept, not only in individual meetings, but throughout the organisation.

Adopting this attitude leads to a number of powerful beliefs and actions.  For example:

  • a meeting is a collective effort
  • all contributions are welcome
  • participants will listen
  • meeting rules will be agreed and adhered to by all.

My second suggestion is feedback.  Time must be allocated to discuss the continuing purpose of the meeting and its process, plus the individual behaviour of the participants – what is helpful and successful, what prevents the meeting from being as effective as we would like?

Following on from these high level approaches, I have many practical hints that I can suggest that will help your meetings.  For example:

  • treat different agenda items in different ways
  • separate the generation of ideas from critical thinking
  • agreement is what you aim for at the end, not the beginning.

Instil an all embracing attitude and invest in feedback.  Then you can agree practical guidelines so that your meetings will become engaging, stimulating and results oriented events.

If you are determined to improve performance, or have a commitment to solve a problem but might be unsure how to start, let me know.

Prevent your feedback and appraisals going wrong

Appraisals can be one of the most difficult activities to get right.

When implemented effectively, they are a source of development for both the appraisee and the appraiser, and they open up organisational communication.  The trouble is, the prevailing organisational culture and the attitude of individuals means you may well experience the following approaches.

“This is your annual appraisal interview”

Approach  “This is your annual appraisal interview as required by the company, in which the manager, that’s me, has the opportunity to critique your performance over the last twelve months.  I’ve been interviewed by my boss.  Now it’s your turn to be done.”

Analysis  An appraisal process that is seen as one way and downward, right and wrong, reinforces management hierarchy and control.  Staff are suspicious because this approach focuses on what the organisation demands, rather than what the individual might potentially contribute.

An effective appraisal is a collaborative approach, a two way process in which both people give feedback to each other.  An effective appraisal is based on a shared overall aim – to explore how we, together, can be more effective.

“The problem with you is…”

Approach  “The role of the boss, that’s me, is to provide clear direction.   I won’t beat about the bush.  Both of us need to know where we stand.  These are your faults and you have got to work on them or you won’t get anywhere around here.”

Analysis  Many managers feel that an appraisal means criticism, that it is a process of correction, more like a disciplinary hearing.  One company I worked in openly called it “character assassination.”

There are two issues here.  One is that the focus of an appraisal should be forward, constructive and about potential; not backward, destructive and about faults.

The second issue is that one individual is using their position power to pass judgment on what they consider to be right and wrong – imposing their views on another, rather than engaging in an exploratory conversation.

Feedback should provide the appraisee with more options in the future, not fewer.

“If I were you…”

Approach  “If I were you (you have a big disadvantage in not being me)….”

Analysis  This is a crippling message to send out.  First of all, it may appear as advice but is, in fact, an order: “Do it my way, and properly.”

Second, the boss underlines the fact that, in their position, they universally have more wisdom, greater experience and a barrow load of charisma – all of which are lacking in their subordinates.  This discourages creativity, energy, innovation, initiative and commitment.

The best appraisal process is one which enables the appraisee to draw conclusions for themselves.

“You shouldn’t have done that”

Approach  “I’d have done it differently (and much better.)  And we wouldn’t be wasting time now talking about it, if you had tried to use common sense before you started.”

Analysis  This is another crippling message, stifling originality and limiting development.  This approach is negative and backward looking.

There are so many positive ways discussion can be opened: “How do you feel negotiations with the suppliers went….How are you getting on with Chris….What personal development do you want to focus on this coming year?”  And the big one: “What can I do for you that will help you do a better job?”

The best feedback helps people grow, it does not diminish them.

“I think you did that because….”

Approach  “Nothing escapes my attention.  And I am pretty astute when it comes to psychology and I’ve got you worked out.  I know what makes people tick.”

Analysis  Not only is the boss a snoop but, beware, they are also a mind reader with superior powers.

When giving feedback, provide examples and focus on observable behaviour. Avoid speculating about people’s inner thoughts or pursuing personal theories.

“I know how it feels”

Approach  “I’ve actually experienced the same as you, only worse.  So you have my sympathy.  It’s not funny, I can tell you.  I conquered adversity.  So….”

Analysis  The receiver of this comment has had an experience that is personal to them and it might have been painful.  The boss has not had that experience and doesn’t know what it feels like, however similar they feel their situations may have been.

The next phrase is likely to be along the lines of “so you have just got to grin and bear it” or “just pull your socks up” or “do what I did”.  In other words an unsympathetic response followed by an order.  This approach is another means to exert control.

Avoid clichés like “I know how it feels” and avoid showing pretend sympathy.  Instead, ask questions: “Looking back, how do you feel about it now?”

“My door is always open”

Approach  “In conclusion, I want you to feel you can come and see me any time.  No problem is too small for me if it’s worrying you.  I’d like to think we can work things out together.  You know, heart to heart.  Now, I must get on….”

Analysis  My first boss used to say this to me and I was immediately confused.  Maybe his door was open but he was rarely in there and, when he was, he seemed to have far more important things to do.

I would be interested to hear of similar comments you have experienced in the name of providing feedback, so please let me know.