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Meetings of the Future: Planning Tips for Change

By Elise Keith

What these leaders may not realize is that the old approach to meetings, where someone talks the team to sleep is quickly becoming unacceptable. Companies and planners everywhere are ditching their boring meetings and adopting more effective practices.
Two factors driving revolution throughout the modern workplace also demand a new way of meeting: digitalization and VUCA, short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Digital Workplace Meetings

The rise of digital technology has obvious impacts on meetings. We no longer need to travel and rarely pass around printed reports. Paperless virtual meetings are now common, and for some companies, the only option.

Digitalization also changes how teams work during the meeting. Before email and other online communications, it made sense for teams to gather to hear what their colleagues were doing. One-way monologues were never thrilling, but they were the easiest way to share information in the past.

Now teams post updates online. Between all the chatter created by our co-workers and the constant influx of news from the outside world, the challenge shifts from distributing information to sifting through it all to figure out what matters.

Tip 1: Trade information sharing for sense making. Leaders must learn to ask great questions. Teams make sense of all this information not by passively listening, but by actively debating the answers to skillful questions.

The always-on barrage of updates and infotainment creates workers who are always learning (bright side!) and are highly distractible. The philosopher Heraclitus’s river has become a flood, leaving many people with a fragile grasp on the team’s boat.
A 90-minute meeting once per week is too long to hold anyone’s attention and too infrequent to ensure the team stays connected.

Tip 2: Hold shorter, more frequent meetings. Pair daily standups with a short weekly meeting. Most full-time teams find that a short meeting for quickly confirming daily plans and a weekly meeting for checking alignment and priorities works best. This pattern is common to both Agile development teams and high-performance leadership teams. Remote teams streamline further by running the stand-up in a chat app.

VUCA-Ready Meetings

Change is a constant, but the rate of change is not. Today’s management blogs are full of strategies for navigating a workplace or event awash in volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

There are no sure bets in a VUCA world, but there are sure ways to fail. Waterfall planning and command-and-control leadership, those darlings of the industrial age, are now the prime examples of what not to do.

As any factory worker knows, automation is taking over the straight-forward work. This leaves us with the complex work; the knowledge work that demands people with skills making quality decisions.

There are too many decisions coming too fast for all this deciding to remain leadership’s sole responsibility.

Instead, companies create self-organizing teams with distributed decision-making authority in order to remain competitive.
What does this mean for meetings?

Tip 3: Release control and adopt a real-time agenda technique. A successful self-organizing team needs ownership over what gets their time and focus during meetings. Real-time agenda techniques give team members a structured way to propose and prioritize topics for discussion.

VUCA impacts our well-being. Increasing cultural fragmentation and isolation breed anxiety and depression. Many people have lost their traditional communities, so now look to the workplace for connection.

Leading companies use meetings to foster a sense of meaning and belonging.

Tip 4: Develop meeting rituals that embody your team’s values. For example, teams at Zingerman’s and Atlassian begin their meetings with icebreakers—a conference classic that proves surprisingly effective at increasing bonds between team members. Google, Dry Farms Wine, and RFS Financial teams meditate during meetings. Starbucks’ crews enjoy a coffee tasting.

These micro-transplants from large events become cultural rituals that enhance the sense of community and meaning in everyday business meetings.

Overhauling Tradition

The waves of technology-laden VUCA are drowning out those who cling to a command-and-control approach. Today’s leaders and planners must learn instead how to ask the right questions and cultivate insights. The fragmented, distracted nature of the workplace also makes it critical to engage the team by intentionally fostering a sense of trust, ownership and meaning.

The modern meeting can do all of this and more. Leaders who follow these tips gain a powerful tool for shaping team culture and driving work momentum.