The topic of meetings discusses when, how and for what purpose meetings are organized.
A New Perspective
Meetings serve different purposes depending on the stage of the organization. The number of meetings held typically grows as organizations develop, peaking at the Green stage. The volume of meetings held declines at the Teal stage.
Members of Teal organizations tend to feel more connected to each other and the work, and need fewer meetings to plan or resolve issues.
In Red organizations, meetings are held when the Chief or Boss feels they are necessary. They might be held to make announcements, pass judgements or to conduct ceremonies. Sometimes they are held, to seek counsel or gather information.
In Amber organizations, meetings are an important method of hierarchical control. They are used to gather, distill, and pass information up and down the organization. The highest-ranking person is in charge. It is incumbent on the others to be prepared to report information or provide answers as required.
Orange organizations manage performance carefully to ensure that targets and goals are achieved. This requires regular (weekly/monthly/quarterly/annual) meetings at most levels in the organization.
Meetings are held for many reasons :
- Reporting progress and making decisions.
- To innovate through brainstorming and other creative processes.
- Gaining approval for investments and other important decisions
- Determining priorities, and so on.
As these meetings proliferate, they become the 'diary-filler' for busy senior executives. Until relatively recently, this often meant significant travel for some of those employed by international organizations.
Meetings often have pre-defined agendas with the intention of reaching clear outcomes. Rational discussion and logical arguments are valued. However, personal agendas are never far from the surface and have the potential to undermine organizational goals.
In Green organizations, aim to serve multiple stakeholders with equality, respect and inclusion. This requires meeting with them. Consensus is valued, but may be gruelling to achieve.
Meetings are not only about planning and reporting (as in Orange organizations), but are also about sustaining a sense of ownership, inclusion and empowerment: in other words, creating a values-based culture. As a result, meeting practices tend to be more attentive to the underlying processes within the group.
Self-organization allows members of Teal organizations to take responsibility for making decisions without the need for approval or consensus. As a result there are usually far fewer meetings required.
Meetings tend to be held only when they are necessary. Reasons include:
- Seeking advice when this is required by the advice process
- Sharing information
- Responding to changing circumstances
Meetings usually incorporate specific practices to ensure that members engage with each other and the purpose of the meeting in a respectful and productive way. New joiners are typically trained in these processes so they can participate fully.
Meeting activity is limited and arises from the 'need to meet'
Meetings can arise spontaneously whenever a member of the organization senses a need, and takes the initiative. Meeting structures and facilitation support this self-organizing spirit. The increased transparency in Teal organizations reduces the number and length of some meetings. When meetings are held, care is taken to use specific practices that foster a sense of wholeness.
Self-management requires far fewer meetings
Overall there tend to be fewer meetings in Teal organizations. In a traditional pyramid structure, meetings are needed to gather, package, filter and transmit information as it flows up and down the chain of command. In self-managing structures, the need for many of these meetings falls away. Whereas in Green organizations meetings may be a way of building ‘bottom up’ involvement, this is already 'built in' to a self-managing structure.
Regular meetings at the operational team/circle level
The frequency of team/circle meetings is determined by the nature of the work.
See FAVI, below.
Traditionally, agendas are thought of as the minimum discipline for a productive meeting. But not necessarily in a Teal workplace. Many of their scheduled meetings have no pre-determined agenda. Rather, one is determined at the beginning, and is based on the topics that hold energy for the participants, at that time. This ensures meetings stay energized, purposeful, and engaging. The interest is a real and present interest; it's not manufactured via a ritualistic approach.
All-hands meetings may be scheduled when there is a new and important information to share: quarterly results, the annual values survey, a strategic inflection point, and so forth. The information is not simply 'presented' top-down – it is discussed and debated. Questions can take the meeting in any direction; frustrations can be vented; accomplishments spontaneously celebrated. More is at play than simply information exchange. Trust in the organization, and its values, is being tested and reaffirmed. Will the senior people be candid, humble, and vulnerable? Will they face the difficult questions? Will they involve the whole group?
In contrast, all-hands meetings in traditional companies tend to be presentation-driven--or otherwise avoided because of their unpredictability, and risk.
Form follows function: meetings emerge on an ad hoc basis
Meetings needed to coordinate tasks across teams, or launch special projects, arise spontaneously. It’s an organic way of organizing.
A variety of meeting formats for different purposes
- Team decision-making meetings at Buurtzorg
- Holocratic Governance vs. Tactical meetings at HolocracyOne
- On-boarding meetings / Departure meetings as at CC&R
- Appraisal meetings
- Conflict resolution meetings
- Listening to purpose meetings
- Large group reflections at Heiligenfeld
- Culture/Values meetings
- Praise meetings at ESBZ
Highlighting sense of wholeness and purpose
Meetings bring out the best and the worst of human nature.
In the best, they are places where others help us listen in to what we really care about. But meetings can also be playfields for egos. To feel safe, some seek to dominate proceedings. Others withdraw. In self-managingorganizations the absence of a boss takes some of these fears out of the room. But in a group of peers egos can dominate just as well. A variety of approaches support productive interactions consistent with wholeness and purpose.
Training in meeting practices
Some train new members in effective meeting formats. New members need to be comfortable to participate in decision-making procedures.
Training in facilitation, communication skills and mindsets support collegiality, trust building, and the resolution of tensions.
Starting at the right place
The beginning of a meeting sets the mood. Teal Organizations may use the following practices:
- One widespread practice is to start with a 'check-in' round. Participants share how they feel in the moment, as they enter. This helps all to listen within, to their bodies and sensations, and to build awareness. Naming an emotion is often all it takes to deal with it. Thus, this practice helps participants let go of distractions while supporting everyone to be present for the current meeting.
- Or every meeting starts with a minute of silence to ground people in the moment.
- Meetings may start with at short reading that one person has prepared. After a few moments of silence, participants share the thoughts this has sparked.
- Another practice is to start every meeting with all sharing a brief story of someone they had recently thanked. This highlights possibility, gratitude, celebration, and trust.
- Yet another variant is a minute of silence and/or a joke.
Keeping on track
Additional practices to keep intention and attention in the meeting:
- A volunteer holds of a pair of tingsha bells (two small hand cymbals that can make a crystal-like sound). If the holder feels ground rules are not being respected, she can make the cymbals sing. No one may speak until the cymbal sound has died out. During the silence, all can reflect on the question: "Am I in the service to the topic we are discussing?”
- Some use a 'talking stick' or other artifact to regulate turn-taking, slow down the speed of conversation, and increase the quality of listening.
- A facilitator may be used when there are specific requirements to fulfil. This may be an external facilitator in some circumstances.
Check-out rounds at the end of the meeting are a natural complement to the initial check-in round. They leave everyone with a sense of the impact of the meeting. A moment of silence is another way to reflect and conclude.
Meeting transparency / open participation
Upcoming meetings may be listed on the intranet. This allows anyone who wants to share concerns or ideas to attend. This transparency may extend to outsiders via streaming on the internet. Some claim this transparency results in closer relations with their external partners.
Meeting cultures in Teal Organizations have adopted some of the ‘alternative meeting formats’ like Open Space, Art of Hosting, World Café etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
Consulting with others, rather than making unilateral decisions, may mean more meetings. However, this is often more than made up for by savings elsewhere.
Frédéric Laloux, tells this story as an illustration:
“Jos de Blok, CEO of Buurtzorg, often applies the advice process by posting a blog note to the Buurtzorg web in the evening, proposing suggestions for new initiatives and decisions and asking for advice from all the members of the organization. 24 hours later, 50-80% of the employees will have read and perhaps commented. Maybe the overwhelming response is "yes, this is fine", in which case the decision can just be effectuated at this point. Alternatively, he will have received feedback on how he might be overlooking important negative consequences, or how this issue may be more complicated than he is aware off. In this case, he might revise his proposal accordingly and repost it, or sense the need to gather a voluntary group to deal with it. In any case this provides a swift decision making process with very few meetings."
Compare this to the process that typically takes place in a traditional 9000 employee hierarchy. Say the CEO wants to change overtime conditions:
First he/she asks the Head of HR to prepare a proposal, who then asks someone more junior to do 'the staff work'. The junior drafts a proposal, maybe shows to a colleague and revises accordingly. Then the Head of HR goes over the draft, and suggests further refinements, before booking a meeting with the CEO who can make further changes. Then it goes to the executive committee...and so on...They want more revisions, and it goes down the line again, and back up again... It may now become political, bringing another layer of complications. If it is now approved, someone in internal communication works on it, and shows the CEO, again. Finally, it is cascaded to the managers who prepare presentations to make a team meetings. The total number meetings that may go into such a decision is huge.