It was a sunny day in Ireland and I was climbing on the beach with my sons. Stopping beside a rockpool, I sat absorbed by the life and ecosystem in front of me: Limpets, a lone shrimp, hermit crabs, two Rock Gobys, multiple sea lice, sea weed swaying. My youngest was about to head off to the waves when I pointed out a Rock Goby hidden in the shadows. “How on earth did you see that?” he asked in surprise. “Can you see the second one?” I returned.
I often train managers on effective meeting management, offering them a toolkit which includes how to prepare, deliver, and review a meeting, how to top and tail it, and how to ensure the time is best used. Yet my top tip is: “Take the time to look”
What could you look for?
Look for someone else to contribute relevant subject matter expertise and content on your behalf. This helps you become a little more objective about the discussion. Give the person advance warning, brief them well on any content you think is relevant, then put on a metaphorical pair of specs and start looking further afield.
Look for where the energy lies early in the meeting. The shrimp created a ripple on the surface of the rock pool and caught my attention. Look for a ripple, the slightly discordant note, or the splash on the water. If it’s there, name it, bring it to the group’s attention and check if it needs prioritising above the formal agenda items. Ignore it at your peril because the meeting will be ineffectual until you’ve dealt with it. Once you’ve addressed the energy consuming topic you can then move on to the formal agenda items which will often then take far less time than you expected. I’ve had to change formal agendas significantly because a team’s attention was somewhere else. Examples include a redundancy round, the death of a close colleague, an unpaid salary. These had to be voiced, heard and dealt with before we could move on. Don’t worry if you get it wrong, the group will tell you and won’t prioritise the topic.
Look for the alternative view. Just like the Rock Goby was hidden behind the seaweed, a different point of view may be tucked away in a quiet participant, may have been brushed off by a louder voice, or your team may be afraid to express it. To help you find the alternative view ask: “Anything else?” “What are we afraid to face?” What’s the elephant in the room? Who also feels like that? What would stop this working? Let’s play Devil’s Advocate… Explore the alternative point of view. It may offer a clue to the life-raft you need when you hit an unexpected storm.
My son spent 30 seconds looking for the second Rock Goby, then ran off. Looking takes patience!