Meetings: A Snapshot of Your Organization's Culture

Meetings are cultural artifacts that give us a snapshot about how people in the organization relate to each other. They tell us all we need to know about power and authority, decision-making, communication patterns, and the way people relate to each other.

Meeting rooms containing long narrow tables where the leader sits at the head, and meeting rooms with round tables where everyone sits facing each other provide vastly different pictures of power, authority, and relationships. Posters proclaiming good meeting habits tell us about the espoused meeting culture while the food fight we see during the meeting shows us the culture that actually exists. Meetings provide us with a thumbnail picture of the organization’s culture and a powerful means to shift it.

Sarah Miller Caldicott writes in a Forbes article how CEO Alan Mulally’s use of meetings was key to Ford’s turn around: “… it would have been a moot victory had Mulally not also changed the way meetings were conducted, the way supplier agreements were developed, and the way people treated each other day-to-day. It has been reported that before Mulally took over, internal meetings at Ford were like mortal combat. Executives regularly looked for vulnerability among their peers and practiced self-preservation over collaboration. Mulally changed all that, making executive meetings a safe environment where data could be shared without blame, improving collaboration and setting the stage for innovation success.”

Productive, collaborative meetings require a different kind of meeting agenda, an agenda that puts as much emphasis on the meeting’s process as its content. We have found that the Meeting Canoe™ provides meeting leaders with such a framework. One that produces seismic shifts in the way people meet. What follows is a description of the Meeting Canoe™ framework and questions to use in developing your meeting agenda.


Welcome: How will you create a meeting environment where people feel well received?

Connect: How will you build connections between meeting participants so they can work effectively together? How will you build links between meeting participants and the work?

Discover: How will you foster curiosity among meeting participants?

Elicit: How will you engage meeting participants in imagining their preferred future?

Decide: How will you go about deciding: what, how, who, and when? How will you create a decision process understood by everyone present?

Attend: How will you bring closure to your meeting so everyone knows what has been decided, the path forward, and has time to reflect on the meeting experience?

Creating meetings where people feel welcome and connected to the task at hand helps create an environment that supports fruitful dialogue. Listening, straight talk, and inquiry are the essential skills needed in the discover and elicit portion of the agenda. Being clear at the outset about the process the group will use to make decisions provides everyone with a clear understanding of the rules of the game. Attending to the end provides closure to the experience, giving all those present an understanding of the decisions reached, the path forward, and a way to improve future meetings.

When your meeting carries with it the electric charge of Autonomy, Challenge, Learning, Meaning, and Feedback, your meetings transform into a productive work experience. The more features you use, the better your meeting will be.

Autonomy – The ability to influence the meeting’s design and its outcome

Challenge – The prospect of stretching your skills

Learning – The opportunity to learn and grow

Meaning – The chance to work on something important

Feedback – The capability of measuring the meeting’s progress

Meetings provide a rapid way to shift your workplace culture no matter where you sit in the organization. The beauty about what happens in meetings is they are under our control. The choice you make about how you lead and participate in meetings is yours. If you are a meeting leader, you can use your power to create meetings such as those conducted within Ford, or not. You can use the Meeting Canoe framework, or not. You can create meetings that carry an electric charge, or not. You can decide if your meeting experience will be one of self-preservation or collaboration. It’s up to you.

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