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If It Doesn’t Bring You Joy... Lessons from Our Meeting Redesign Process

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

By Kate Seely, Leadership, Culture, and Community Director | Northern California Grantmakers

I just hosted a staff meeting filled with laughter and storytelling. Wipe-your-eyes laughter, and good, around-the-dinner-table connection. How did we get here? Partly by recognizing that our meetings weren’t, in many cases, places we preferred to be. It took a few surveys, a thoughtful process, lots of feedback, and some courageous conversations to set aside our old ways and create something useful foreveryone in the room. It continues to take everyone's engagement, and thoughtful reflection on how to iterate.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned along the way.

Engagement.

Throughout our redesign process, colleagues were adamant about saying no to death-by-updates. We agreed that we should use alternate communications mechanisms, a la email, for updates, and save our in-person time together for more connection, learning, and critical thinking. Therefore, most agenda items have a dynamic component to them, whereby team members engage with the material that’s presented, with the presenter, and with each other.

A note on engagement: Engagement also felt important to getting to a successful new design of our meetings. We convened a small ad hoc team internally to host the process, created a survey for all team members to complete, asking questions about what they wanted in our new meeting designs. Once the small team analyzed those inputs and came up with design drafts, we hosted a dynamic feedback session to hear their reactions and iterate on our drafts. With multiple touchpoints for the whole team throughout the process, they could see their voices reflected in the final design. We continue the engagement process by asking people how they are feeling with the new designs, and what needs to change. As in.. Engagement... it's continual. 

Cultivate joy and laughter.

It’s not impossible to have standing meetings that incorporate joy and laughter. That said, humor is more a strength for some than for others. When thinking about engagement mechanisms, tap your funny people to bring their humor!

Celebrate.

Make sure to take time to celebrate – both organizational successes, and also people individually. Birthdays, weddings, conferences, institutes, the big wins of course, but also the little ones. 

Beautify things! And set the space.

Beauty adds a lot to a meeting. It helps people feel like there is care and intention at play, and it makes people feel welcome. I have music playing as people enter the room, sometimes I’ll bring in flowers, I make any slides that accompany meetings beautiful.

Create opportunities for connection.

Whether this takes the shape of a good check-in question, or a meaningful, joyful moment of celebration, connecting as whole humans connects us with one another, and allows us to feel that much more embedded in a real community of people.

Ownership and facilitation.

Finally, we can’t leave these things to the wind. Meetings should have a leader – someone who is committed to their success – ensuring and tending to great agenda development and taking the above elements into account.  Each of our standing meetings has a meeting lead, and in many cases, the facilitation of those meetings rotates. While I support the meeting leads when they need it, and make it a point to check in with them about how things are going, I consider myself just that, a support, not a driver.

I offer these pointers in support of happy, productive meetings everywhere, whether in your work, or in your communities. May it be so!

On a related note, I learned much of what I know about participatory process through an international network of facilitators called The Art of Hosting. There is a wonderful training in Minnesota April 8-10, and it’s quite affordable if you can get there!

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