The world is run by those willing to sit until the end of meetings.” (Hugh Park)

About a year ago, I ran a systemic team coaching programme with a senior team. As part of an initial diagnosis, I sat with each of the team members in a structured interview and was surprised to find that each one of them raised the same issue – and without prompting from me. The issue for them was that they operated in silos and, as is normally the case where there are silos, were far too operational in their meetings, especially for such a senior team. As I listened to the last few interviews, I wondered why – if this was a view held by everyone – this ‘malady’ persisted? Why had they not discussed it in one of their meetings? Isn’t part of their job to resolve such issues?

The answer soon became clear to me! I followed the interviews by observing one of their meetings, as I normally do in these systemic team coaching programmes. It soon became clear that their meetings were report back meetings where schedule after the schedule of numbers were presented on the screen. I couldn’t help having a sense of déjà vu as I remembered my corporate years of a previous lifetime! And right on cue, members switched off as one of their colleagues reported back on their numbers and any discussion that ensued was almost totally between the respective reporters and the CEO.

This begs the question! What is the general purpose of meetings? In my view, it is the only time (or at least one of the few times) that all members of the team are together and that a full airing of views can take place. Moreover, teams are teams because they are able to do things more effectively than they could if they were not a team – they are teams so that they can become more than the sum of their parts. If this is not the reason, then why be a team?

If this view is correct, then the general purpose of the meeting is to act in the best interests of that team’s purpose and the organisations’ purpose. And in turn, if this is correct, then I submit (oh dear, I used to be an attorney, me lord!) – then I submit report backs of this kind will, at best, enable the team to only be a sum of its parts, not more. And again, what’s the point?

“So, what do we do with the numbers?” I hear you say. “After all, that’s a measure of our performance! Of what we do!”

First off, I agree, the numbers are important. However, these can and, in my view should be dealt with in another way. The management reports can be distributed timeously before the meeting with the expectation that everyone in the team will have a good handle of the team and individual performances to date. After all, it is in their collective interest to do so. In this case, however, the ‘reporter’ (previously) should have provided whoever is responsible for the agenda with the specific issues, challenges and/or obstacles they are experiencing in the form of an open question. If the agenda should also be distributed early, the team members then have an opportunity to do research or reflect on the questions raised. Everyone can then be given a chance to air their views before a general discussion takes place, a discussion that has the bigger purpose of the team at heart, not the various silo interests.

Secondly, our primary role and loyalty are to the management or leadership team – we should, in fact, regard this as our primary team, not our departmental teams or those who report to us. (More of this another day!)

Wouldn’t this be a better use of everyone’s time? Wouldn’t this be an antidote to silo thinking? Wouldn’t the team stand a better chance of being more than the sum of its parts?

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