Knights of the Round Table

I attend two standing meetings each Thursday.  The first is my weekly staff meeting with my three direct report managers.  The second is a cross-departmental meeting focused on operational issues.

Both meetings are remarkable and I look forward to attending.  Yes, poor meetings abound in the business world.  Yet these two meetings work and for very similar reasons.  Here are my observations on why each of these two meetings works so well:

  • Small talk is not small – Each meeting typically starts with small talk about topics far away from the work at hand.  A leader needs to know when the time is right to allow for, and even encourage, small talk.  Small talk is the warm up.  Often we do not notice when the small talk stops and the business talk begins.  Small talk builds the container for a safe discussion ready for all to take part.
  • Focus on learning – The people in these meetings are damn smart and know our business inside and out.  I focus on learning in these meetings.  I notice others are learning from each other as we talk.  How cool to hear, “I do not understand, can you tell me more?”  Learning leads to understanding.
  • We can solve any problem – We talk about the little items and the big items.  We even venture into deeper waters occasionally and discuss the bigger issues at hand in our business.   The thought that pops into my head is that we can solve this issue.  We can solve that issue.  We can solve any issue.
  • We are smarter together Synergy is an overused business buzzword that is poorly understood.  Track me down and slap me silly if I mention the work “synergy” again.  Yet, we know those times when a group comes together, discusses issues, listens, and taps into the collected knowledge and experience.  Yea, we are smarter together in these meetings.
  • Leadership is fluid – Each person in both meetings is a leader with staff and process responsibility.  We need the person closest to the topic to lead the conversation. My job is to facilitate and allow the leaders to lead the discussion and continue to decision-making.  I do not forget my role as the boss in the room.  Yet, I am glad that most decisions are group decisions and only infrequently do I have to decide on my own.
  • There is something about a round table – Both meetings take part in my office at a round conference table.  The table holds six people comfortably.  This setup is so different from a larger conference room.  In these conference rooms we sit around a rectangular table where we can not see each other well and often there are empty chairs scattered through the room.  A round table generates energy and focuses it toward the center where it belongs.  Our meetings work because of the items I list above, yet do not forget the power of a round table to bring people together in unity and purpose.

Hum, maybe I have it wrong.  My two Thursday meetings are not meetings at all.   They are a gathering.    You know the difference.  How bold to start to call them as such … let’s start.


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