The topic of meetings discusses when, how and for what purpose meetings are organized.
A New Perspective
Meetings serve different purposes depending on the stage of the organization. The number of meetings held typically grows as organizations develop, peaking at the Green stage. The volume of meetings held declines at the Teal stage.
Members of Teal organizations tend to feel more connected to each other and the work, and need fewer meetings to plan or resolve issues.
In Red organizations, meetings are held when the Chief or Boss feels they are necessary. They might be held to make announcements, pass judgements or to conduct ceremonies. Sometimes they are held, to seek counsel or gather information.
In Amber organizations, meetings are an important method of hierarchical control. They are used to gather, distill, and pass information up and down the organization. The highest-ranking person is in charge. It is incumbent on the others to be prepared to report information or provide answers as required.
Orange organizations manage performance carefully to ensure that targets and goals are achieved. This requires regular (weekly/monthly/quarterly/annual) meetings at most levels in the organization.
Meetings are held for many reasons :
- Reporting progress and making decisions.
- To innovate through brainstorming and other creative processes.
- Gaining approval for investments and other important decisions
- Determining priorities, and so on.
As these meetings proliferate, they become the 'diary-filler' for busy senior executives. Until relatively recently, this often meant significant travel for some of those employed by international organizations.
Meetings often have pre-defined agendas with the intention of reaching clear outcomes. Rational discussion and logical arguments are valued. However, personal agendas are never far from the surface and have the potential to undermine organizational goals.
In Green organizations, aim to serve multiple stakeholders with equality, respect and inclusion. This requires meeting with them. Consensus is valued, but may be gruelling to achieve.
Meetings are not only about planning and reporting (as in Orange organizations), but are also about sustaining a sense of ownership, inclusion and empowerment: in other words, creating a values-based culture. As a result, meeting practices tend to be more attentive to the underlying processes within the group.
Self-organization allows members of Teal organizations to take responsibility for making decisions without the need for approval or consensus. As a result there are usually far fewer meetings required.
Meetings tend to be held only when they are necessary. Reasons include:
- Seeking advice when this is required by the advice process
- Sharing information
- Responding to changing circumstances
Meetings usually incorporate specific practices to ensure that members engage with each other and the purpose of the meeting in a respectful and productive way. New joiners are typically trained in these processes so they can participate fully.
Meeting activity is limited and arises from the 'need to meet'
Meetings can arise spontaneously whenever a member of the organization senses a need, and takes the initiative. Meeting structures and facilitation support this self-organizing spirit. The increased transparency in Teal organizations reduces the number and length of some meetings. When meetings are held, care is taken to use specific practices that foster a sense of wholeness.
Self-management requires far fewer meetings
Overall there tend to be fewer meetings in Teal organizations. In a traditional pyramid structure, meetings are needed to gather, package, filter and transmit information as it flows up and down the chain of command. In self-managing structures, the need for many of these meetings falls away. Whereas in Green organizations meetings may be a way of building ‘bottom up’ involvement, this is already 'built in' to a self-managing structure.
Regular meetings at the operational team/circle level
The frequency of team/circle meetings is determined by the nature of the work.
See FAVI, below.
Traditionally, agendas are thought of as the minimum discipline for a productive meeting. But not necessarily in a Teal workplace. Many of their scheduled meetings have no pre-determined agenda. Rather, one is determined at the beginning, and is based on the topics that hold energy for the participants, at that time. This ensures meetings stay energized, purposeful, and engaging. The interest is a real and present interest; it's not manufactured via a ritualistic approach.
All-hands meetings may be scheduled when there is a new and important information to share: quarterly results, the annual values survey, a strategic inflection point, and so forth. The information is not simply 'presented' top-down – it is discussed and debated. Questions can take the meeting in any direction; frustrations can be vented; accomplishments spontaneously celebrated. More is at play than simply information exchange. Trust in the organization, and its values, is being tested and reaffirmed. Will the senior people be candid, humble, and vulnerable? Will they face the difficult questions? Will they involve the whole group?
In contrast, all-hands meetings in traditional companies tend to be presentation-driven--or otherwise avoided because of their unpredictability, and risk.
Form follows function: meetings emerge on an ad hoc basis
Meetings needed to coordinate tasks across teams, or launch special projects, arise spontaneously. It’s an organic way of organizing.
A variety of meeting formats for different purposes
- Team decision-making meetings at Buurtzorg
- Holocratic Governance vs. Tactical meetings at HolocracyOne
- On-boarding meetings / Departure meetings as at CC&R
- Appraisal meetings
- Conflict resolution meetings
- Listening to purpose meetings
- Large group reflections at Heiligenfeld
- Culture/Values meetings
- Praise meetings at ESBZ
Highlighting sense of wholeness and purpose
Meetings bring out the best and the worst of human nature.
In the best, they are places where others help us listen in to what we really care about. But meetings can also be playfields for egos. To feel safe, some seek to dominate proceedings. Others withdraw. In self-managingorganizations the absence of a boss takes some of these fears out of the room. But in a group of peers egos can dominate just as well. A variety of approaches support productive interactions consistent with wholeness and purpose.
Training in meeting practices
Some train new members in effective meeting formats. New members need to be comfortable to participate in decision-making procedures.
Training in facilitation, communication skills and mindsets support collegiality, trust building, and the resolution of tensions.
Starting at the right place
The beginning of a meeting sets the mood. Teal Organizations may use the following practices:
- One widespread practice is to start with a 'check-in' round. Participants share how they feel in the moment, as they enter. This helps all to listen within, to their bodies and sensations, and to build awareness. Naming an emotion is often all it takes to deal with it. Thus, this practice helps participants let go of distractions while supporting everyone to be present for the current meeting.
- Or every meeting starts with a minute of silence to ground people in the moment.
- Meetings may start with at short reading that one person has prepared. After a few moments of silence, participants share the thoughts this has sparked.
- Another practice is to start every meeting with all sharing a brief story of someone they had recently thanked. This highlights possibility, gratitude, celebration, and trust.
- Yet another variant is a minute of silence and/or a joke.
Keeping on track
Additional practices to keep intention and attention in the meeting:
- A volunteer holds of a pair of tingsha bells (two small hand cymbals that can make a crystal-like sound). If the holder feels ground rules are not being respected, she can make the cymbals sing. No one may speak until the cymbal sound has died out. During the silence, all can reflect on the question: "Am I in the service to the topic we are discussing?”
- Some use a 'talking stick' or other artifact to regulate turn-taking, slow down the speed of conversation, and increase the quality of listening.
- A facilitator may be used when there are specific requirements to fulfil. This may be an external facilitator in some circumstances.
Check-out rounds at the end of the meeting are a natural complement to the initial check-in round. They leave everyone with a sense of the impact of the meeting. A moment of silence is another way to reflect and conclude.
Meeting transparency / open participation
Upcoming meetings may be listed on the intranet. This allows anyone who wants to share concerns or ideas to attend. This transparency may extend to outsiders via streaming on the internet. Some claim this transparency results in closer relations with their external partners.
Meeting cultures in Teal Organizations have adopted some of the ‘alternative meeting formats’ like Open Space, Art of Hosting, World Café etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
Consulting with others, rather than making unilateral decisions, may mean more meetings. However, this is often more than made up for by savings elsewhere.
Frédéric Laloux, tells this story as an illustration:
“Jos de Blok, CEO of Buurtzorg, often applies the advice process by posting a blog note to the Buurtzorg web in the evening, proposing suggestions for new initiatives and decisions and asking for advice from all the members of the organization. 24 hours later, 50-80% of the employees will have read and perhaps commented. Maybe the overwhelming response is "yes, this is fine", in which case the decision can just be effectuated at this point. Alternatively, he will have received feedback on how he might be overlooking important negative consequences, or how this issue may be more complicated than he is aware off. In this case, he might revise his proposal accordingly and repost it, or sense the need to gather a voluntary group to deal with it. In any case this provides a swift decision making process with very few meetings."
Compare this to the process that typically takes place in a traditional 9000 employee hierarchy. Say the CEO wants to change overtime conditions:
First he/she asks the Head of HR to prepare a proposal, who then asks someone more junior to do 'the staff work'. The junior drafts a proposal, maybe shows to a colleague and revises accordingly. Then the Head of HR goes over the draft, and suggests further refinements, before booking a meeting with the CEO who can make further changes. Then it goes to the executive committee...and so on...They want more revisions, and it goes down the line again, and back up again... It may now become political, bringing another layer of complications. If it is now approved, someone in internal communication works on it, and shows the CEO, again. Finally, it is cascaded to the managers who prepare presentations to make a team meetings. The total number meetings that may go into such a decision is huge.
Concrete cases for inspiration
Welcoming new personnel:
Each existing team member brings an object symbolising a wish for their new colleague. They present it, and share their wish. This celebrates the newcomer, and makes him or her feel welcome. It also serves existing team members. They too get to know each other at a deeper level.
There is a similar practice when someone leaves. Team members join in a meal with the departing colleague. Everybody prepares a personal story about that person and the organization. The stories celebrate the person who is leaving. But again, they reveal just as much about the storyteller.
Every Friday afternoon, the entire school – students, teachers, and staff – comes together for an hour. They start by singing a song together, to settle into community. The rest of the time together is unscripted.
There is an open microphone on stage, with a simple rule: we are here to praise and thank each other. For the next 50 minutes, students and teachers who feel called to do so stand up, walk up on stage, take the microphone, and praise or thank another student or teacher for something they did or said earlier in the week; when they sit down someone else takes the stage. Every person at the microphone shares what is essentially a miniature story that reveals something about two people – the storyteller and the person being praised or thanked.
Students and teachers credit this weekly session as the defining practice for the school’s extraordinary spirit of learning, collaboration, and maturity.
In addition to as-needed meetings, Fitzii uses regular meeting practices.
Monthly whole team meetings – all regular Fitzii coworkers attend a monthly meeting that alternates between its two offices. For a team who work from two locations and often telework, this ensures one predictable occasion to meet together face-to-face. The agenda regularly includes wholeness activities such as a getting-to-know one coworker activity, as well as financial review to increase the financial awareness of every team member and promote ownership thinking. Other topics are added, to a shared document (no one person controls the agenda), by anyone who wants the whole team’s input on any topic.
One-on-one meetings – traditional manager-employee one-on-one meetings have been replaced with rotating one-on-one meetings between random pairings of individuals. These meetings, called “Teal Dates”, serve to strengthen bonds, increase understanding of other roles, and provide a predictable first point of contact for the advice process. Each Teal Date pairing lasts three months.
Generally, sound meeting practices and facilitation are highly valued, ex. De Bono techniques, task-based learning techniques, and the company’s own Doozy of a Question (DOAQ) meeting style are examples.
Large group reflective meetings:
Every Tuesday morning 350 employees come together to engage in joint reflection. (Some colleagues need to stay with patients.)
The meeting kicks off with a presentation to frame the subject matter.
The heart of the meeting is when small groups engage in self-reflection. As for instance, the topic ‘dealing with failure’: A short presentation introduces ways to deal gracefully with failure – how new possibilities open up when we stop being judgmental about our failures, etc.
Then people shuffle chairs around to create groups of 6 to 10 people. They reflect on the topic, guided by a facilitator they elect.
At some point, a microphone goes around the room and people can share what came up in the discussion.
There is no scripted outcome to these meetings: no expected end product. As well as personal learning, collective insights emerge. Initiatives are then carried out when people go back to work.
It’s a time-consuming practice, but people at Heiligenfeld say the benefits far outweigh the costs. These meetings are like a company-wide training program on steroids.
The common experience also fosters community and a common language. To approving chuckles in the room, an employee of Heiligenfeld once stood up at the end of one such meeting and said ‘ You know, I wish I could have more Heiligenfeld at home.
In Holacracy there are 4 meeting types:
All meetings start with a 'check-in" and close with a 'check-out'.
Tactical meetings: These short daily or weekly meetings serve the operational process. Here work is coordinated. Operational processes are addressed, actions decided, and things get done.
Strategic meetings: These rare meetings have no specific form and process thinking about how to best serve the evolutionary purpose.
Special topic meetings: Held when a topic calls for special attention. These meetings also have no specific form.
Governance meetings: These meetings are restricted to roles, and collaboration; not the rough and tumble of getting work done. The latter are for tactical meetings. Governance meetings are held generally every month. They follow strict process to ensure everybone’s voice is heard and that no one can dominate decision-making. A facilitator guides the proceeding via the following process:
- Present proposal
- Clarifying questions
- Reaction round
- Amend and clarify
- Objection round
The process might sound formal and needs to get used to, but people who use it report they find it deeply liberating and dramatically efficient.
Every morning people gather their teams for ‘good or new’--a sort of check-in for the day. A doll is passed around, like a talking stick. The holder can share either something new (news from work, the papers, or their private lives), or something good, or simply a story they want their colleagues to know about, work-related or not.
Team decision making procedure
Buurtzorg teams use a very efficient method for problem solving and decision-making. They first choose a facilitator. The facilitator is not allowed to make any statements, suggestions, or decisions; she can only ask questions: “What is your proposal?” Or “What is the rationale for your proposal?”. All responses are listed on a flipchart.
Then all are reviewed, improved and refined.
In a third round, proposals are put up for decision. The basis for decision-making is not consensus. For a solution to be adopted it is enough that nobody has a principled objection. A person cannot veto a decision because she feels another solution (for example, hers!) would have been preferable. The perfect solution that all would embrace wholeheartedly might not exist, and its pursuit could prove exhausting. As long as there is no principled objection, a solution will be adopted, with the understanding that it can be revisited at any time when new information is available.
If, despite their training and meeting techniques, teams get stuck, they can ask for external facilitation at any time.
Limiting ‘higher level’ regional coach meetings:
In many ways it would make good sense for Jos de Blok, CEO of Buurtzorg to meet regularly with the regional coaches: they have great insight into what’s happening in the field. Collectively, they could spot issues and opportunities and determine actions to take.
But this process would now be like an executive management committee--the opposite of what they want.
To avoid this, Jos de Block limits his meetings with the coaches to quarterly.
Weekly senior management meetings in Favi used to include the heads of sales, production, maintenance, finance, HR, etc. These are now held at the team level.
Teams hold short regular meetings to align and make decisions as follows:
- a short tactical discussion at the start of every shift
- a weekly meeting with the sales account manager to discuss orders
- a monthly meeting with an open agenda
Beyond that, they tend to have no regularly scheduled meetings at all. If cross-team meetings occur, it’s in response to a specific need.
Happy seeks to keep internal meetings to a minimum. For ones involving the whole company (a weekly staff meeting and six-monthly Happy Day), Happy seeks to use Liberating Structures - to give everybody an equal voice.
Whether on real life events or on Zoom, meetings at Happy use liberating structures. They are a set of formalised techniques that, instead of having meetings dominated by one or two people, involve everybody. For an overview of all 33 techniques see https://www.liberatingstructures.com/
Here are a quick sum-up of some techniques used at Happy
Spiral Journal: A mindful start
Take a piece of A4 paper and fold it into 4. Spend two minutes drawing a spiral, as slowly and as tightly wound as possible, out from the centre. In response to four prompts, give your answers in each of the four quadrants. Then discuss in (breakout room) pairs. This is a chance to reflect, and ground yourself. The prompts that are used are:
- "Right now my body is feeling……",
- "The challenges I’m bringing with me to this workshop are……",
- "Something I have been paying close attention to is………",
- "Lately it's been important for me to….."
Mad Tea: an icebreaker
Live, you form two circles so everybody is facing another person. Prompts are presented and each person responds in turn in just 30 seconds. (eg, "The current crisis is making me feel …." and "Things that are more important for me now are… ") Then one circle moves round and you face another person. It is a high energy activity, giving a chance to meet people quickly. In Zoom, you display the prompt in Chat (and on Broadcast) and split the room into pairs for 90 seconds, sending out a broadcast at the halfway point. It still produces a buzz.
W3: What? So What? Now What?
W3 is a great way to reflect on a discussion or a process and step away from self-generating beliefs. It simply consist of asking three questions, each to be considered first alone and then in pairs, to base decisions on what has been answered:
- What? What did you see, feel, hear, think?
- So What? What are the implications?
- Now What? What to do next?
Triz: What's the worst that could happen?
In Triz you look at the worst possible outcome (e.g, what would make this project fail?). Working first alone and then in groups, you examine what could lead to that result. Then, again working first alone and then in groups, you explore which of those things your organisation is doing.
Happy’s prompt was "How can you ensure you respond to this crisis in a way that is reliably disastrous for yourself and others?". There was a lot of talk of Trump and injecting Dettol, but also of issues like "failing to adapt".
Troika: Consultation in threes
What challenge or issue would you like help on? Troika groups three people together. Each in turn raises their issue and explains it to the others. In real life, they then turn their back (so the others can't see their response and facial expression) and hear the other two discuss their issue for 5 minutes.
Online, you can turn your back. But it is actually more effective than normal to turn off your video and be able to not just hear the other two colleagues but not see them too. It is remarkable how often real insights result from this process.
- Culture and Values
- Feedback and Performance Management
- Decision Making
- Mood Management
- Training and Coaching
- Safe Space