Productive Meetings

with Dave Kashen

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The Meeting

Sacred and functional elements

Dave Kashen

Entrepreneur, Startup CEO Coach, Team & Culture Expert

Lessons Learned

“Meeting” is a label we assign to the diverse group of conversations we have in an organization.

Leave all meetings with a clear agreement and a sense of continuity.

Social time and connection are valid goals for meetings.


Lesson: Productive Meetings with Dave Kashen

Step #5 The Meeting: Sacred and functional elements

The way I think is useful to recognize it is a meeting is not a meeting, meaning there's so many different types of meetings, there's so many different purposes of meetings. There's a sales meeting where you're in conversation with a potential client. There's one-on-one meetings where you're working on understanding your employee or report's development and helping them grow. There's weekly leadership team meetings, there's product meetings, there's engineering meetings, so we're really trying to map the different meeting types and make sure we're helping people have not just great meetings in the universal sense, but have a great experience and great level of productivity for all the different types of meetings, which I think is really important as well.

During the actual meeting several things should be happening. In many ways it depends on the type of meeting. In a sales meeting there should be a conversation that leads to understanding of needs and selling. In a product meeting it's typically understanding customer needs, figuring out the right metrics, figuring out decisions the road map, what to do next, prioritization. But I think at a high level people should be making decisions, committing to specific actions, and if there are issue that are unresolved, declaring them as issues that are unresolved and figuring out how you might talk about it in the future or address it in the future. I think those are the major things. They can look, they have a lot of different flavors to them, but I think those are the major things that people are trying to do in meetings and should be doing in meetings. I think ultimately the key is creating clear agreement. I think that's what's missing from so many meetings is there's a discussion but there's not clear agreement on what got decided and on who's supposed to do what and by when.

And I think if you can actually leave a meeting with a clear agreement and some follow up, some notion that it's going to persist, either in a document or in a future conversation, that there's some continuity that creates accountability and a sense that the loop will be closed, that way what happens during the meeting actually impacts the future and changes the course of the team or company.

The other things that can happen in the meeting are social time, connection, sharing. Some meetings are more around deepening relationships and having people be vulnerable and share and connect, and I think that's totally valid as well. I think it's just useful to be as explicit and intentional as you can about what you're trying to achieve with the meeting and what time is used for what. Another big thing I see teams get into trouble with is trying to collapse the divergence process from the convergence process. And what I mean by that is when you're generating ideas it's this divergent, let's try to generate as many different ideas as possible.

And in that phase it's really useful to have no judgment and free flowing of ideas, crazy ideas. Often that's what leads to the most useful ideas. And then separately to have a phase that's around convergence. What are the criteria that we're going to use to filter down the list? How are we going to make this decision? And then in the end, ideally coming to some clear agreement that then bridges to follow up an action and a new direction. I think being explicit about when you're doing what helps team get a lot more done and have a more productive conversation. Often they'll try to collapse so then they're coming up with ideas and the next breath they're shooting them down. And so it's this muddled process of idea generation and judging happening all together and I think that's generally less efficient.

So we've been talking a lot about the individual meetings. I think it's also interesting to think about the organization as a network of conversations. That's an interesting model to think about what is an organization but a network of conversations or in a sense a network of meetings and conversations in between meetings.

One interesting question is to what degree is the network of conversations, or are the meetings, the cadence of meetings, the type of meetings, the people that are interacting with each other and coming together, the people that are not, to what degree is that in alignment with the values of the company and the purpose of the company. And I think one really interesting way to sort of audit yourself for how effective you are and how likely you are to achieve a purpose is, to what extent do your meetings actually advance the fundamental vision and purpose of the company? A lot of companies will have, at the micro level productive feeling meetings, but if you look at them in the aggregate or even at the individual level, they don't actually advance the purpose of the meeting.

So doing whatever you can to create more line of sight between purpose, fundamental purpose for the company and vision for the company, and the meetings themselves could make a huge different. And we're experimenting with ways to bring that more present, both the purpose and the values. Often what happens is the time where you create and agree on the values or when you're relatively clear headed are calm, is not the same moment when you have to make decisions. Decisions often get made in the meetings, under pressure, under duress. And if the values aren't front of mind or present what can happen is we sway, we make tradeoffs, we make sacrifices.

So we're really curious about how we can support teams to keep purpose and values more front of mind and present while making real day-to-day tactical decisions. And I really recommend teams to have conversations about that. How do we make sure that the conversations that we're having, that you're having, the meetings you're having are really advancing the purpose, are related to the purpose and then we don't get too much in the weeds.

I've spoken before about the notion of a business as having both a sacred and functional elements. It's a frame I learned from Brian Franklin, one of our advisors, and I think you could superimpose that on your meetings as well. To what extent is the conversation or the conversations functional or sacred? And I think the companies that really thrive, are the ones that have a good a balance of sacred and functional in their conversations. They're talking about the day-to-day, the tactical moving the needle, moving the metrics, making these decisions. But they're also talking about the fundamental user and the way that you serve the user, the impact we're trying to have. And the more those conversations are occurring, I think the more inspired people continue to be and the more likely the company is to actually achieve its fundamental purpose.

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