Eight Powerful Strategies to Fix Your Meetings

Meetings are at the heart of effective organizations. Each meeting is an opportunity to clarify issues, set direction, sharpen focus, create alignment, and move ambitions forward. We have to change the way we think about meetings, the way we design and lead them, and, most importantly, how we manage what happens between meetings.

Paul Axtell offers eight powerful strategies for fixing our meeting problems, and within each strategy, he provides concrete advice you can put into action immediately such as limiting participants, being vigilant about what gets on the agenda, designing the conversation for each agenda item, and managing the experience for everyone in the room so people leave feeling heard and appreciated.

Here are the eight strategies:

  1. Choose the perspective: This Matters.
  2. Master effective conversations.
  3. Create supportive relationships.
  4. Decide what matters and who cares.
  5. Design each conversation.
  6. Lead meetings for three outcomes.
  7. Participate in meetings to add impact.
  8. Build remarkable groups.

If you’re struggling with making your meetings productive and powerful, then join us on April 28th for our Soundview Live webinar with Paul Axtell: Eight Powerful Strategies to Fix Your Meetings. Bring your team together for the webinar and post your questions for Paul during the session.

All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want

SOLUTIONS TO FAMILIAR MISTAKES

At a party in Greenwich Village, author and consultant Peter Bregman hears a yelp as one of the guests steps on the host’s dog. The guest yells at the fleeing dog to “watch out!” Then, seeing Bregman looking at her, she explains that “he’s always in the way.” As Bregman writes in his new book, Four Seconds, “Really? You step on a dog, and then you blame the dog? Who does that? Actually, a lot of us do.” Four Seconds is filled with behaviors and actions that a lot of us do, and most of those actions, Bregman argues, are actually self-defeating. Blaming others instead of taking responsibility, for example, makes people appear weak and dishonest, hurts one’s self esteem and, perhaps most importantly, eliminates learning opportunities. “When something is your fault and you don’t admit it, in all probability, you’ll make the same mistake in the future, which will lead to more blame,” Bregman writes.

The Mistakes We Make

In 51 short, engaging chapters, Bregman offers a litany of the common mistakes and actions that most of us make, and then describes the solution. The first step in every case, however, is the same: take a breath. Take the four seconds you need to inhale and exhale, urges Bregman, which will give you the time to act or react appropriately and constructively.

“Don’t Blame the Dog: Take the Blame Instead” is a chapter in the book’s section on strengthening relationships (one of three sections; the others are entitled “Optimize Work Habits” and “Change Your Mental Defaults.”) Other chapters related to strengthening relationships include lessons on not writing people off (but remaining aware of their faults), changing your expectations when people consistently fail to meet your original expectations, and giving people the benefit of the doubt if they are suddenly unreasonable — because something else is going on. Chapters in the “optimize work habits” section include how to keep your cool, how to let people fail (or almost fail), and why to focus on outcome, not process. The “change your mental defaults” section covers topics such as committing to follow through and trusting yourself first.

Each chapter is packed with engaging personal stories. The chapter on putting outcome above process begins with the story of the author and his daughters trying to help people in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. With all the distribution centers overfilled with donations, the author abandons the prescribed process and stops at a random devastated house to donate their goods.

Experience Adds Depth

Bregman uses his experience as a consultant to bolster the personal stories with real-world examples of the problem. In the chapter on blame, for example, he describes a meeting in which a V.P. of sales willingly shoulders the blame for his company’s poor results, thus inspiring the other functional leaders to stop playing the blame game and to take their share of the responsibility. “By taking the blame, Dave changed the course of that meeting and, as it turns out, the course of the company,” Bregman writes. “He also got promoted.”

The lessons here are sometimes counterintuitive (Bregman argues against setting goals), always entertaining, and most importantly, insightful and revealing. As readers of Four Seconds pore through these pages, they will laugh out loud, shake their heads at the gall of some people … and look around awkwardly as they read about familiar situations that they also badly mishandled.

What Goes Wrong In Groupthink?

Two heads are better than one, according to the old saying. So why are groups with lots of “heads” known for making bad decisions? Why does “groupthink” immediately connote ineffectiveness and mistakes?

These questions are answered in a fascinating new book called Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter, written by Cass R. Sunstein, a former White House official, and Reid Hastie, an academic specialized in the psychology of decision making. Building on their combined experiences and research, Sunstein and Hastie dissect what goes wrong in group decision-making, then offer clear-cut solutions to overcome these problems.

Group decision-making involves discussions among members of a group, each with their own skills, experience, ideas and information. Unfortunately, as the authors explain, there are two types of influences on group members — informational signals and social pressures — which skew the deliberations. Informational signals cause people to keep information to themselves when it contradicts information from others, especially leaders. Social pressures cause people to keep information to themselves to avoid punishment, for example, the disapproval of leaders who are contradicted.

These influences lead to four problems, the authors write: Instead of correcting the errors of their members, groups actually amplify those errors (e.g., the leader’s mistaken conclusion is validated by the group); cascade effects take over when the group follows whomever spoke first or loudest; groups become more polarized, that is, more extreme in their sentiments, as the internal discussions reinforce their predisposed thoughts; and groups focus on shared information (what most people know) instead of unshared information — the information known only by a few individuals.

Having laid out the core problems, the authors offer solutions. They begin with a list of methods aimed at counteracting the four core problems, such as

Leaders have to keep quiet and convince group members that they sincerely want to hear all ideas.

Group success (not individual success) should be rewarded. Group members must understand that if the group is right, everyone benefits; this will encourage them to ensure that they find the right answer rather than pushing their own ideas.

Group members should be assigned specific roles (for example, one person is the medical expert, another the legal expert), thus ensuring that everyone contributes.

Either individuals or assigned teams (known as red teams) should be tasked with acting as devil’s advocates.

Groups also fail, the authors write, because they don’t distinguish between the “sloppy” early rounds of deliberations, in which all ideas must be allowed on the table, and the final rounds of deliberations, in which groups must be tight and analytical as they seek the precise solution. Successful groups will deliberately separate the two processes.

In another approach, the authors demonstrate that the wisdom of crowds (making decisions based on the average or majority of large crowds of people) will often lead to the right answer if a majority of crowd members know their material. Decision-makers often prefer to rely on one single expert, but “chasing the expert” significantly reduces the probability of getting the decision right.

Wiser is a quick, engaging and thoughtful read that compellingly argues that, with a few simple steps and open-minded leadership, group deliberations can, indeed, lead to wiser decisions.

How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives

A CEO’S PRACTICE OF CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM

“The coolest part,” writes The Container Store founder Kip Tindell in his book Uncontainable, “is when you’re doing a performance review and give an employee a much bigger raise than she was expecting. She starts crying, you start crying, and the magic spreads across the company, and out into the world.” This short passage about compensation reflects the heart of Tindell’s philosophy of “conscious capitalism” in which the best way to make money is to do the right thing by employees, customers and the community.

Tindell’s authenticity and generosity are shown through his use of words that are rarely, if ever, found in any business book. Words such as “yummy,” which is used as the core description of the company’s culture and environment. “I know, chief executives don’t often use words like ‘yummy’ when talking about their companies,” Tindell writes. “But it’s a word we use all the time around here. When folks ask, “What do you mean by ‘yummy’?” I say, well, it’s the opposite of yucky.” He goes on to explain that “yummy” is “the deeply pleasurable sensation employees and customers get the moment they walk through the doors into our store.”

How do you translate a concept such as “yumminess” into a business model and real-world business practices? The answer, according to Tindell, is found in The Container Store’s Foundation Principles. What stands out in these principles is the unwavering and unapologetic embrace of being kind, generous and even sentimental, of believing that there is good in everyone and that by building on that good, you create a money-making venture. Uncontainable is a respectful (Tindell believes in not saying anything if you can’t say anything kind) but firm rejection of Jack Welch and Milton Friedman.

The Seven Principles are:

1 Great Person = 3 Good People. The Container Store does everything it can to hire the best people, including compensating them at significantly higher rates than the average in retail. With his company consistently chosen as a Best Place to Work in America and boasting a turnover rate of 10 percent (the retail industry average is 100 percent), Tindell proves that his company is filled with truly great people.

Fill the Other Guy’s Basket to the Brim. Making Money Then Becomes an Easy Proposition. This principle is reflected, for example, in the company’s win-win relationships with suppliers, who are treated as partners. In fact, Tindell writes, good relationships with suppliers are win-win-win relationships because the customer also wins.

Man in the Desert Selling. Don’t just give the man in the desert a glass of water. Tend to all of his needs. Don’t sell a box. Sell solutions to the customer’s living needs.

Communication IS Leadership. The Container Store practices open-book management (with the exception of individual salaries). Open communication, Tindell explains, “is a crucial part of our commitment in valuing one another and making sure we all feel appreciated, included, safe, secure and empowered.”

The Best Selection, Service and Price. Most business will not attempt to achieve all three. “We work to hit the Triple Crown every day,” writes Tindell.

Intuition Does Not Come to an Unprepared Mind. You Need to Train Before It Happens. The average length of training in the retail industry is eight hours. In their first year, employees of The Container Store receive 300 hours of training — and the training continues throughout their career.

Air of Excitement! When greeted by enthusiastic employees genuinely interested in helping customers resolve their organizing needs, those customers become just as enthusiastic, Tindell explains.

Conscious capitalism is not always an easy sell, despite the do-good sentiment expressed in every form of corporate communication that emerges from a company’s PR machine. If there is a core lesson from Uncontainable, it is that truly conscious capitalism exists only if the CEO leads with his or her heart.

Maybe most CEOs will never be comfortable using words such as “yummy” or sharing the tears of pleasure that come with a raise. Not all CEOs can be Kip Tindell — but after reading this book, you’ll almost wish they could.

Don‘t Leave Home Without Them

In Frances Cole Jones’ book How to Wow, she include a set of techniques that every business person should know and use every day.

1. Three elements of Face-to-Face Communication – 7% words, 38% tone of voice and 55% body language.
2. The Power of Story Telling – speak from your own experience while acknowledging your listener’s situation.
3. My Name is Bond – say your name with such panache that the listener will remember it.
4. Avoid Useless Modifiers – use descriptive words instead of empty modifiers.
5. The All-Important Diaphragm – speak from your diaphragm to give your voice more authority.
6. Persuasive Words – the number one word is “You.” Focus your communication on the listener. Also: Money, Save, New, Results, Health, Easy, Safety, Love, Discover, Proven and Guarantee.
7. What to Wear – from your clothes, to your shoes, to your watch, it’s all important to consider.
8. Nerves – the nerves in your neck affect your nervousness. Bend over and let your head hang free, and your nervousness will dissipate.
9. Listen Up – it’s not hearing, or waiting to talk, or zoning out because you think you already know what they’re going to say. Instead, listen to find out.
10. More Isn’t Better, Better Is Better – concise is often the best.
11. Because, because… – you need to fill in your listening on the “because”, not just give them the solutions.
12. Entrances and Exits – be aware of the entrance into a situation and the exit from it, the technology guy with your microphone, and bus person with the glass of water. It all matters.
13. Two is One, and One is None – have extra of the things you need to communicate, to avoid Murphy’s Law.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the hands-on tips and techniques that Jones has collected over her years of communicating with others. We will be tapping into her vast knowledge of personal communication through our upcoming Soundview Live webinar Proven Strategies for Selling Yourself in Any Situation on January 6th. Register today and mark your calendar. It will be well worth an hour of your time.