Wielding the power of offline discussions
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Meetings can be the bane of our existence or a boon to our productivity and culture. Similarly, how we prepare for them can range from winging it to massive PowerPoint decks with handouts.
Whether it is a quarterly board meeting or a weekly team meeting, offline discussions can make or break the effectiveness of the time we spend together. Here are a few tips and tricks for avoiding underlying pitfalls and making the most of offline discussions to better optimize our meetings.
Staging can be an amazingly effective aspect of offline discussions. In other words, we can underscore the impact of the meeting by ensuring the events leading up to and/or immediately following it support and reinforce the message.
For example, if we know there will be a promotion announced at the meeting, we can have discussions beforehand with team members to reinforce reward-worthy behavior, team priorities and initiatives. When the promotion is announced, the reasons are clear to the team.
On the flip side, conversations before meetings, particularly board meetings, can undermine diversity, cooperation and participation. This article in the September/October Harvard Business Review has an excellent summary of the benefits and dangers of side conversations.
In short, experts can be left out of the conversation, which means the discussion loses their valuable input. Coalitions of like-minded leaders can form giving additional weight to minority views yet also allow for diverse viewpoints to be marginalized.
Practically speaking, in addition to reading the whole article for more detailed advice, the key takeaway is that awareness of the power — positive and negative — of side conversations is the first step in understanding how to manage them effectively.
One of the best examples of an industry incorporating both staging and backroom deals is politics. The media supports and allows us to witness aspects of political theatre on a regular basis.
Grandstanding, curated views of supporters, and personal style are just a few examples of how politicians and, especially now, candidates on the campaign trail manage their performances to support their messages.
On the other hand, it can also feel as if there are nothing but backroom conversations in politics, making the gathering, speech or vote on the floor a foregone conclusion. In the corporate world, such stagecraft can undermine culture, morale and productivity.
However, practically considering the outcome of a meeting and how are actions before and after can support (or undermine) the message are critical.
The bottom line is offline discussions are a powerful tool. It is great when important meetings proceed smoothly and effectively. In many cases, the work we put in before and after the meeting makes it possible.
However, whether orchestrating a massive change that requires significant buy-in or handling a sensitive issue, it is incumbent upon leaders to ensure that all leaders are given a voice, that no one is influential in a way that is disproportionate to their title, and that optimizing side conversations does not constitute sanctioning backroom deals.
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