The Devil Named Meetings

I love Chris Stapleton and his soulful, down-on-his-luck country songs. I can imagine a life filled with whisky, smoky bars, and life on the road but... Let's be real. His days are so different than mine. So just for fun on this pre-holiday, throw-away workday, I adjusted the lyrics below to better reflect my reality as a federal meeting facilitator.

This was done with a lot of love and respect for Chris and my cherished clients-- and apparently because I have nothing better to do.  You can buy the real song and sing along here.

Big hugs and Happy Thanksgiving!

Follow through or else

Color Grid: Spring 2   by Allison Long Hardy

Color Grid: Spring 2 by Allison Long Hardy

Strategic plans are like dust bunnies. They have a cute name but are an annoying reminder that there is something else we should be doing. They're amassed from the fur, fluff, and fuzz floating around and tend to reproduce in dark corners. Strategic plans are often the end goal of a long process with at least a meeting or two scheduled along the way.

Strategic planning meetings can be great but have limitations. Done well, they...

  • Get everyone on the same basis of understanding around the problem to be solved
  • Lay the foundation for some near-term decisions the leadership team will ultimately have final say on
  • Energize a team in a rut

Sadly, the initial interest and excitement generated during the meeting can flip to disappointment quickly after. The problem usually isn't in the meeting itself, it's the follow through. To avoid frustration and reduce the risk of long-term eye-rolling, there are two choices.

  1. Plan, schedule, and market the meeting as a team building exercise. Then when good strategic thinking happens and written down in the minutes, the team is delighted.
  2. Build follow through into the process at the beginning. Schedule a least post-meeting sessions to bring closure to the plan and, more importantly, get a few (2-3) of the priority actions rolling.  Then, get a meeting on the calendar for one year out as a reminder to all that the plan will be revisited, progress reviewed, and actions refined for the next year.

3 tips for experiential board meetings

We look forward to board meetings like we do putting gas in the car. Getting together is obviously critical in order to run but you know you're going to bump into some questionable characters and afterwards have an intense desire to wash your hands.

Who would look forward to prepping for weeks in advance to entertain an bunch of well-meaning but ultimately bored and distracted know-it-alls? In the non-profit world, boards provide strategic guidance, raise funds, and make connections. In the for-profit world, it's pretty much the same-- except that a many are actually paid to be there.  So that helps, I guess.

Either way, the issue we face when preparing for and engaging our boards is an issue of disconnected judgement. The organization's mission is clear. The board's purpose is clear. Unfortunately though, they're together so infrequently and rarely ever during a normal day that both sides lack sufficient understanding to really help each other help the organization.

What to do?

Commit to at least one experiential portion during the annual or semi-annual meeting. These sessions should be...

Hippo  by Martin Pool

Hippo by Martin Pool

  • At least 1/2 a day (4 hours) with a bit of time at the end to talk casually about what they did or saw
  • Mimic normal day-to-day challenges to the greatest degree possible.  Obviously, most staff or patients or tourists or clients will behave differently when there is someone unfamiliar lurking about. Even so, get the board involved with whatever you develop and deliver at the most fundamental level.
  • Split board members up (so that they don't just talk to each other) and pair them with your most passionate staff.  Focus on pairing board members with sparky, interesting people who embody the mission. With this approach, you might not pick your highest performers or even someone doing everything by the book. However, the benefit is that the board member will be exposed to an impassioned person who will naturally seize that opportunity to reinforce why the work is so important. They'll also see the strengths, weaknesses, and risks up close.