Can you hear me in the back of the room?

It happened again.  We had a full department meeting and as people showed up many, if not most, scoped out seats in the back rows of the large, theater style meeting room.  Several staff and the leadership team sat up front.  What a view from where I stood at the podium.   I saw people in the first several rows.  I looked at empty space in the middle rows.  I saw standing room only in the rear of the room.   Before I started the meeting I did a sound check with the microphone.  I looked to the back of the room to find someone to ask if they could hear me.  My problem was I saw too many folks to ask – it seems nearly everyone was sitting in the back of the room.

What a failure.  As leaders we truly want our full department to connect with each other and recognize our common purpose.  We do such important work for our organization.  Our staff are vital to our success.  Management spends more time than the staff would ever know focusing on how to improve our work environment (hey, it ain’t too bad now).   When we pull together a full department meeting we expect the staff to join the party and sit closer to the action.  To be involved.  Sadly, it does not always happen.

I study and focus on how to build a fully engaged and meaningful workplace.  After meetings as I experienced today, I truly wonder if most employees want such a fully involved and meaningful workplace.  As a leader I will not give up.  I will support those who want to engage and be part of the community.  Yea, a community.  That is what we are with all the good and bad that comes with a community of people.  We are gathered for a common purpose and I will not forget.

I look back on my career and how I started in the back of the room and how I made the decision to move to the front of the room.  The problem is not necessarily sitting in the back of the room.  It is that dead space between the front and the back of the room.  As a presenter at the front of the room it saps your energy.  In all honesty, I was off my game today during the presentation.  I should have fought through it, but seeing my audience, my community of people, so disconnected in where they chose to sit drained my enthusiasm.

Where do we go from here?  I wrote a recent post titled, Step into the Circle.  To the extent you have control over the set up of your meeting room – DO IT.  Set up the chairs to get close to all your audience.   Simply do not give your audience a choice.  They will sit close to you and each other.  Yea, you are somewhat forcing the issue, but if you have control over how the room is set up, please do so.

What is the ultimate leadership action?  Bring this behavior to the surface.  At my next meeting I will directly talk about this disconnect.  I have to believe that most people will respond well.  For those who do not … well, now I know.  A leader should not get stuck in the trap of focusing too much on those who choose to not connect and be part of the community.  As a leader focus on those who choose to ba part of the community.  Hey, it is a beautiful thing when a person decides to change behavior for the better.  You are the leader; help and support them.

My next meeting will be different.  I am a leader and I am committed to pushing for a better community of people who want to pull together as a full team.  A tough challenge, but that is what a leader does.  I am not alone – We Move Together.

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4 thoughts on “Can you hear me in the back of the room?

  1. Great post Michael. This is always a challenge. Especially with new teams with low morale. Initially I thought some of my actions (move everyone to front of the room) would be looked upon as contrived. Cynical audience knows what you are doing. Yet, in time, as you show them that you really care about them as humans, as someone that you are personally investing in – the tide begins to turn. The fact that you are so concerned about it leads me to believe you are a member of the 1% in the best manager ranks.

    1. David – thanks as always for your words. I agree on a very direct approach to move folks closer. Over time the tide does turn. I plan to talk openingly about this in the office – all good. I will let you know how it goes. Once again thanks for coming by and your site kicks serious butt. Keep up the great writing and inspiration.
      – Michael

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