Goldilocks Goes to a Meeting

04/20/2015 06:19 pm ET | Updated Jun 20, 2015

Some meetings are too hot. Some meetings are too cold. And some meetings -- a very few --are just right.

A meeting is too hot when it's full of conflict, simmering tension, and just plain old bad behavior. People talk past or over one another, resulting in talk, talk, talk, but no listen, listen, listen. These kinds of too hot meetings are common when leadership teams are negotiating budget cutbacks, struggling with a high risk decision, or have low levels of trust for one another.

A meeting is too cold when it's passive, low energy, or when only a few of the attendees are actually participating. In our observation, too cold meetings have become the standard in the virtual meeting cultures that characterize large, global organizations. The infinite opportunities for multi-tasking make it likely that folks aren't even really in the meeting they're in... no wonder it's so cold in here!

"Just right" meetings strike a balance between productive conflict - which innumerable authors have cited as being key to innovation - and mindful cooperation. In a just right meeting, a number of conditions are in place:

  • The meeting has a well thought out design with a clear and compelling purpose including a specific desired outcome (rather than a topic)
  • The right people are in the room / on the call and every person knows why she is there
  • ALL participants hold themselves accountable for how time is consumed; they challenge themselves to stay engaged and to look for opportunities to advance the conversation
  • There is an active "Bystander," a term coined by David Kantor Ph.D. as part of his widely cited Four Player Model, which is a role that integrates and offers perspective. This role pays attention to how we're having the conversation as much as what we're talking about.

While it sounds easy, our work with major companies suggests that there's an avalanche of cold meetings occurring. You may even be shivering through one right now. When you find yourself reaching for a sweater, stop. Instead, warm up the room with a real dialogue. Ask yourself: what is the best possible outcome we can get from this investment of time? What can I do right now to help us get there? And then ask a good question. Our all-purpose best: "Hey everyone, I know we want to accomplish is x - what progress have we made so far? What conversation would move us forward now?