Is it possible to get things done in a meeting? Maybe.

How we engage with one another is an organization’s greatest strategic asset — and one of the most neglected.  Searching for inspiration, I was thrilled to hear Ray Dalio, founder of the high-flying Bridgewater Associates talk about their culture of “radical transparency.”

The key is to be good with each other. If you’re radically truthful with the other person and you believe that that other person is going to be truthful with you, while that may be difficult initially in that moment, it builds better relationships and it builds better quality work.

Think about it: what if all of us could build ways to be more direct, empathetic and well, business-like with our colleagues?  We might get more done.

Image result for new yorker cartoon meeting

Cartoon by Kaamran Hafeez courtesy of The New Yorker

To the uninitiated, the methods Dalio uses sound as extreme as the nature of a hedge fund’s work. But the approach is founder-developed and enforced, built on lessons learned in a fiercely competitive industry.  Teams rate one other electronically in real-time during meetings, testing the viability of investment strategies. And don’t we all constantly (and silently) rate our colleagues?

I’ve been investigating an approach to meetings called Liberating Structures, an approach to managing meetings and presentations through a series of formatted, creative exercises, debriefing after an exercise by asking a group to jot down their impressions on sticky notes:

  • What (did you observe),
  • So What (conclusions did you draw?)
  • Now What?

It’s a timed exercise, and notes are grouped in categories. The group formulates an action plan based on the results. It’s a participatory, grassroots approach designed to eliminate the obstructions we all automatically produce when seated (or standing) around a table.

I can’t label my first attempt a success.  There were some ruffled feathers, and a couple of people didn’t like the variation in the “way we do things.”  But when is it easy to try something new?  The trick is to impose enough structure (timed intervals, simply worded assignment, small groups) to cultivate sincere engagement. I’ll keep you posted.

Update: People are the foundation of any discipline, and Liberating Structures is no exception. The discipline was developed by two men, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, with backgrounds in health care and pharmaceuticals.  But our work group is almost all women – extraoardinary people, mostly from nonprofits tasked with doing seemingly impossible tasks — “fixing” family violence; turning around troubled teens by putting them to work on the land, farming; providing mental health in a state that doesn’t believe in it.  There’s a big initiative at Seton, a major hospital network — if anything needs to be untangled, it’s our health care system.

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