Do we need meetings? I think that answer is “yes.” Are our meetings meeting our needs? I am thinking that answer is a qualified “yes.”
I have had the privilege of working here at the Brody School of Medicine, on and off, over the last 30 years or so. To a significant degree, that has made me a product of this environment. There is much to be proud of here, as evidence of our unique culture. I also believe that we must continue to examine ourselves – individually and collectively – and seek to improve our processes as a result of this review.
Without any doubt, there is a need for us to process more information in less time. Some have indicated that we need fewer or more efficient meetings so folks can focus on their “real work.”
I have had a wide range of experiences in meetings. Some flow easily, and even the most complex challenge is processed to action with little drama. Others are painfully difficult for the majority of the participants.
I’ve observed that certain characteristics are common to successful meetings – ones that run smoothly and accomplish the real work they were intended to accomplish:
- The agenda is thoughtfully prepared prior to the meeting. It may or may not need to be published prior to the meeting, depending on the context of the conversation that is imagined.
- The meeting is held in a comfortable space and environment.
- The meeting is led by a facilitator, sometimes called the chair, who ensures all attendees are meaningfully engaged and heard. This is a talent.
- Timelines are helpfully anticipated and respected.
- Attendees express respect for their colleagues through their body language, words and actions.
- Gratitude is expressed when staff bring items to the attention of the membership.
- Distractions are purposefully limited. This includes attempts to multi-task, particularly with phones and computers.
- When the work is completed, there is a sense of celebration for work well done and the meeting is called to an end.
- Folks look forward to seeing each other again!
With those things in mind, I humbly propose that some improvements could be made within Brody’s meeting culture. For example, prior to dense agenda items being brought before leadership, support staff should work as diligently as possible to present a mature work product, with the intention that leadership would then add value to the conversation – and the work would be accomplished with efficiency.
We should strive to avoid any behaviors that limit the orderly flow of discussion and deviate significantly from the aspirations embedded in the list above, including:
- Routine interrogations of professional staff when information is presented.
- Stereotypical “finding fault” with every agenda item at every meeting.
- Attempts to gerrymander the agenda by “know-it-all” individuals.
- Withholding opinions during a meeting, but de-constructively holding a separate meeting in the hallway.
You probably know of – or have experienced – additional traps.
As Dean, I have the duty and the authority to referee those meetings I am in control of. There is an essential additional functionality that is necessary and helpful to me. But we all share in the responsibility to help our peers. We all have blind spots.
Our challenge is to help each other understand our positive roles in facilitating our processes so that we can accomplish more. Meetings should be at least mildly pleasurable, even if the content is challenging.
I am reminded also that we benefit from the richness of our conversations. Our differences enhance the quality of our interactions and the product that is created. It is attractive to me that our leaders have different qualities, because the combination of their various tendencies is what facilitates resolution of the most complex issues.
Some of our colleagues are more analytical and like tangibles such as numbers. Some are more imaginative and really enjoy change. Some might be defined as “touchy feely” because they follow their gut instincts with abandon, while others are wired to be cautious, painstakingly organized and extremely precise in planning for the future. It’s all of these qualities respectfully expressed together that add essential value to the outcomes we create.
I implore each of you to consider how you might better appreciate these differences and adhere to a core value system we can all support. How can we respect honesty and clarity without being brutal? How can we champion generosity of thought, appreciation and respect for others? How can we model trustworthiness? How can we diminish fear, as it is sometimes mistakenly thought to be a motivator?
This is a time to move beyond words. We can only change through personal commitment and the embracing of a value system that is demonstrated through action.
Please consider what I have said here, and let us have a meaningful conversation. Let us commit to changing our meeting culture for the better. We need more meetings that meet our needs.
Thanks for all you do for the citizens of eastern North Carolina, and Happy Thanksgiving!