Meet, Track And Challenge
– Use meetings to create the safety for people to speak up
Growth and profit are a product of how people work together
IN A NUTSHELL
Meetings can be the bane of corporate life: There are those endless meetings, where much gets said, but little or nothing gets decided conclusively; then, there are meetings which get hijacked by a few dominant or disruptive players; and then there are meetings which serve as superficial covers for hidden agendas and corporate games.
But, what is the original purpose of a meeting? To serve as a common ground where people can come together, share information and air out concerns. It’s an opportunity to mingle with peers and collaborate on what must be the next plan of action. Simply put, meetings are educational, instructional and social in nature and can be used to foster better connections, deeper understanding and practical problem solving.
And they needn’t always be about work, either: Employees in large organizations tend to go through their entire tenures without meeting and connecting with colleagues from other departments and teams. Annual conventions, although meant to bridge this gap, aren’t a strong enough solution. So what can a company do to help its people not just meet each other regularly, but to open up and speak freely about things beyond work? This is particularly relevant, when a company is considering redefining its organizational structure or contemplating some major change. The off-work meetings can play an important role in creating safety for people to speak up and raise issues.
On the same note, organizations and leaders need to keep in mind that people are creatures of habit and that they won’t be able to make everyone open up immediately. It’s going to take a long time, a lot of meetings and loads of patience to keep encouraging people to speak up and actively participate. But eventually, even the most introverted among people will begin to speak out and that’s when the meetings will really start to take flight.
Schedule frequent meetings to encourage people to openly discuss issues, track progress, and overcome challenges they face during a time of transition.
If a company aims to step away from conventional, top-down management practices, then it needs to do so in a collaborative manner. And by collaboration, we mean getting employees of all levels involved in the transition. People are so used to blindly following corporate directives, even though they personally resent them. More often than not, people hesitate to speak up when something is amiss because they feel insecure in their jobs. And, when people systematically refuse to speak up even when they don’t agree with something, it indicates a deep problem – one that will take time and patience to weed out. The first step towards addressing this problem is creating safety for people to speak up. And people feel safe only around others they know well. So, the real first step is to create as many opportunities as possible for employees across departments and teams to meet and mingle with each other – not as coworkers, but as real people. And, once people feel safe to point out what’s going wrong where, the management will no longer need to second-guess what the problems are.
Meet in order to connect: While general meetings, annual conventions and sales conventions are spaces where the whole company gets together, they are often mired in business-related topics and leave very little room for people to make real connections with others in the company. On the other end, team meetings and department meetings tend to involve the same set of people and they’re all about business. So, it’s difficult for people to build deep connections in general meetings and it’s tough for people to meet new people in team/department meetings. The solution is to create a separate set of meetings to solely encourage people to mingle, open up and connect with others who’d have otherwise been just acquaintances.
Don’t force but encourage: When people hear there’s yet another meeting to attend, the first reaction is often one of exasperation or frustration. While that’s normal, the management/ leaders need to make it clear that these meetings aren’t another layer on the existing bureaucracy and it’s best to leave purely business discussions at the door. Encourage people to break out of their groups and sit next to someone they don’t really know. Allow people to make friends beyond their usual circles and motivate them to speak up about their concerns and issues. Think of these meetings as a monthly replica of your company’s annual convention – which is usually a good mix of business and pleasure.
Make it safe to talk about anything and everything: It’s quite possible that there will be some in these meetings who enter and leave without saying a word. The whole idea behind these meetings should be to encourage even the most introverted among employees to open up and speak their minds freely. But that’s like asking people to take a huge step out of their comfort zones and there’s bound to be some major and drawn out resistance to the idea. So for instance, the meeting coordinator could say to such people, “If you don’t have anything business-related to talk about, then just talk about a personal interest of yours. Talk about soccer, your family, or whatever struggles you’re facing in your personal life at the moment.” The idea is to make people safe enough to take the initiative to share and talk.
Use different discussion techniques: These meetings won’t work unless people overcome their anxieties about talking and sharing openly. And for many people talking in front of a large group can be downright inhibiting. So it’s important to include a mix of discussion techniques to help people find the confidence to speak up. For instance, there could be impromptu group discussions; or, the coordinator could ask a generic question and people who want to say something can raise their hands. It’s important to note that this encouragement to speak cannot happen within a bubble. Instead, every meeting – like team meetings and departmental meetings need to morph into safe spaces that constantly encourage people to share their ideas, views and opinions freely. Overtime, it will translate into greater participation in these general meetings.
Set up multi-disciplinary task forces and commissions: The problems that people have at work aren’t restricted to just their jobs or their managers. It could be the lack of cleanliness in the toilets; it could be the poor quality of food in the office cafeteria; it could be the lack of any space to take a moment or unwind during work hours. It could be so many other things. But people tend to put up with these issues and learn to live with them instead of talking about them and trying to fix them. The purpose of these meetings is to help people do just that. So encourage employees to discuss among themselves and come up with issues that need resolving. Then motivate them to form their own task forces and commissions involving people from across the company. These smaller groups of people, who are all motivated about solving the same issue, can forge some deep connections among individuals who’d have otherwise never been on the same team.
Create conventions that are open to all: Many companies invite all corporate departments to participate in their sales conventions, but the focus is primarily on sales and employees at the bottom levels, like factory workers and cleaners are generally not invited. Instead, organize one that’s primarily aimed at including everyone – right from the factory workers, the security staff and the cleaning crew to the highest echelons of the company. Although it helps to hold these conventions in an inspiring place, like a tranquil resort, it will work just as fine if organized at a public place, like the beach or, when clubbed with an ongoing party like a local festival or carnival. Use these conventions as a great platform for conducting creative team-building exercises. You could seek the help of professionals who specialize in conducting such activities, for they know how to design activities that will make even the most passive people take interest and actively contribute. Think of these conventions and team building activities as an organic way to coax even the most shy people out of their shells.
Help people be more than just colleagues: When an organization persistently encourages its people to engage with each other on a deeper level, on issues that are beyond just work, it creates a major change in the company culture. The change might be happening at a glacial speed, with no immediate, tangible improvements. However, overtime, people will begin seeing each other as more than just coworkers and acknowledge the person behind. They will start overcoming the barriers and limitations of distance and start caring about the other person. And when employees foster deep workplace friendships, they will be more satisfied with their jobs; happier at office; and contemplate less about jumping ships.
Use it as an onboarding springboard: Sure, these meetings are meant to create deeper bonds between existing employees. However, since they have a long-lasting effect on the company culture, these meetings also serve as springboards for onboarding new recruits. They help new employees get a sense of the culture and their coworkers in a setting that’s beyond work. It helps them assimilate into the culture seamlessly, right from the beginning
Level to implement
Make the meetings personal, fun and collaborative
Provide multiple opportunities for introverted, shy and passive employees to participate
Make it safe for people to raise issues, concerns and doubts
Leave judgements and business-related talks at the door
Encourage people to break out of their cliques and mingle with people they don’t really know
Believe in the process and that people will eventually start responding and speaking up
Be patient and persistent
Create spaces that include every employee – right from the lowest rung to the highest rung on the corporate ladder
Seek professional help to conduct team-building exercises
Expect immediate or short-term results and changes in behavior
Force people to open up for it will only further push them into their shells
Make the meetings solely about business
Think you have to arrange conventions at expensive resorts to make them work
Don’t stereotype people or be judgemental
Creates the safe space for people to open up and start speaking up about issues they have
Deepens workplace relationships and improves collaboration
Allows even the most introverted and shy people to open up and express themselves
Helps onboard new recruits in a better way by giving them a sense of the culture and People
Overtime, these meetings will naturally identify problems and find collaborative solutions
Creates a workforce that’s engaged, open and committed
Reduces employee turnover on the long run
Can be time-consuming and it might be years before any real improvement begins showing
People can resist the process because it means they need to step out of their comfort zone
The meetings may be perceived as a waste of time by those who don’t understand or value the long-term benefits
Productivity and profitability could be negatively affected in the short term
Companies or the leadership may lose steam quite fast when they can’t immediately see Results
Different companies will see results at different times, depending on their people
When Ricardo Semler decided to transform Semco’s organizational structure into something that was more democratic and horizontal, he began thinking about and collaborating with his leaders on how to do it. The question was never whether they had to do it. Instead, they focussed on coming up with ways in which they could create a democratic workplace that inspired people.
Their discussions made them realize that they needed to create safe spaces for people to talk to each other. So they decided to add another set of meetings to the existing set of general, departmental and team meetings. And they weren’t doing this to add more bureaucratic red tape – for that would have gone against everything they were aiming for. Instead, they meant these meetings to be sanctuaries where people could meet, discuss, debate and resolve issues together.
At these meetings, the primary focus wasn’t business but the people. And overtime, approximately three years later, Semco started noticing tangible differences in the way its people communicated with each other and treated their colleagues. It broke barriers, built bridges and forged lifelong connections – all of which has contributed to the company’s revolutionary democracy and phenomenally low turnover rates.