Meeting Norms That Make Us BIG

 It was the morning of the first day of the Be BIG workshop at Mumbai.  I had weaved my way through the heavy morning traffic to make it just in time for the workshop. I walked into the room, saw more than a dozen unfamiliar but smiling faces, exchanged a few introductions, and sat down at my seat.  I was happy and excited to be there but was also apprehensive and struggling with my concentration.

Soon Judith Katz and Fred Miller started the workshop.  It was the beginning of a two-day journey of learning, practicing, and experiencing Be BIG behaviours.

In this post I wish to relate some of the things Judith and Fred did at the start of the workshop—things which enabled inclusion for myself and others over the next two days. In the process I learnt what I could do differently at work.

Fred started the meeting with a Moment for Focus exercise. He wanted us to take a minute to think about why we were there in the workshop, what we would contribute, and what we hoped to take away.

The ring of a hand-operated bell signalled us to start. I closed my eyes. Initially the silence was discomforting. There were a myriad of thoughts on my mind. I was trying to think about the workshop but other thoughts were intruding in—thoughts around what I needed to do at work next week and some stuff at home I needed to complete over the weekend. I struggled my way through and finally did manage to come out with why I was there in the workshop.

I wanted to understand:

  • What interactions make me BIG/small?
  • What interactions make my colleagues BIG/small?
  • What interactions make teams BIG/small? Why do some teams seem to be high-performing and integrated while others are not? What could we do as HR managers to create high-performing and integrated teams?

Fred rang the bell again after about a minute to bring our focus back to the group, and we shared our thoughts with others. As I heard others share their expectations and I shared my expectations, I became clearer about why I was there.

Next we did a Hello exercise. We went around the room, shook each other’s hands, and acknowledged each other’s presence.  By the end of all the Hellos I felt warm towards my co-participants—people who 10 minutes back were strangers to me. There was this sense of inter-connections among this diverse group of people (managers, entrepreneurs, social workers, etc.).

We didn’t stop at this. Fred next asked all of us to “check in.” We talked about how we were feeling as a human being today. I reflected on my state of mind for the day and shared my state with others. I heard about my co-participants’ states of mind and could consequently understand when and how much they wanted to participate.

Later some of us shared a few Safety Stories. These were narratives of safety procedures that appealed to us, often wrapped around a personal experience with the procedures. I realized that people have different level of needs for physical, emotional, and psychological safety. I also sensed that when people feel safe they bring their best to work.

So why do I mention the Moment for Focus, the Hello exercise, checking in, and Safety Stories? These helped me during the workshop and have left me with questions I hope to answer at work.

Knowing why I was in the workshop enabled me to actively listen, participate, and create action plans over the two days. I was no longer a passive recipient of information but actively fulfilling my input needs.  By the end of the two days I had concrete action plans in place—plans about what I wanted to do differently at work.

Knowing why others were there in the workshop enabled me to actively listen to their points of view and support them in meeting their goals.

Saying Hellos, checking in, and sharing Safety Stories ensured that I built connections with others in the room, became aware of our needs around safety, and understood where they (and I) were coming from each day.

At work we have multiple meetings in a day. We attend meetings we are invited to. We invite others for meetings and call in a wide range of stakeholders to ensure buy-in. We facilitate meetings. But when do we pause to reflect why we are there or why we are calling someone for a meeting? Even if we do expectation setting at the start of a meeting, do we create a space where people can focus their thoughts before they speak?

We need to start meetings with a Moment for Focus. Think of a team moving from a two-hour operational review meeting straight into a strategic planning meeting. We are asking them to undergo a significant shift in time application and thought process. Starting the strategic planning meeting with a Moment for Focus enables all the participants to see why they are there and how they would contribute.

I personally found the bell to be helpful. I associate the sound of the bell with temples: you ring the bell before you pray and you ring it again after you have finished praying. I associate praying with focusing my thoughts. Hence ringing the bell makes it so much easier for me to focus thoughts, irrespective of how hectic a day I am having.

Our need for these other practices is just as important. We often talk of teamwork: how a good team functions in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. How does that happen until and unless we feel connections amongst each other? These connections need to be built every time we meet. We might be working with each other, but do we know how even our best buddy at work is feeling today? Saying Hellos and checking in sets us up for practicing Inclusive Behaviours in our interactions. Feeling safe and making others feel safe ensures a level playing ground where everyone can come in and contribute.

I believe that these four activities—part of what Judith and Fred call the Inclusive Meeting Norms—can make a critical difference in the way we work together. That in turn can increase the performance of our team and even our whole organization. My goal now is to put these norms to work for us, and I hope this blog post will help you do the same.

- Sourav Banerjee

Mumbai, India