Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Go to the Book!

As a child, I would sometimes go to my mother asking about a word or a place or a thing, she wouldn’t just provide the answer. She would send me to get our dictionary or a volume of our set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Each volume was huge (at least to small boy) and filled all kinds of interesting stuff. Of course, in school, books were everywhere. I can’t say that I always read every novel or every chapter of the textbooks that were assigned, but I gathered enough information to pass. As adult, I have continued to “go to the book” whenever I’m faced with a burning question, a new word, or just need help with a problem. That phrase – “go to the book” – was a favorite of a past boss. With a background in religious studies, he often meant the phrase to mean how humankind has consulted sacred texts over the millennia to sort out problems great and small. But it applies well to our need to consult the “experts” or at least someone who has spent more time and study on a subject than us.

Of course, today, I’m just as apt to “Google” a topic as I am to seek out a reference book. However, there are still many times that I need to go to the book for guidance, answers and a possible roadmap, if you will, toward solving a problem. (And by “problem” I don’t necessarily mean something that is negative. It’s more of a challenge, a quandary, a question.)

Just such a challenge, let’s say, arose after meeting with a member of my staff who, during a discussion about another topic, expressed some lack of enthusiasm for our staff meetings. The meetings are held weekly and, usually, consist of making sure everyone is up to speed on the events of the coming two weeks. There are sometimes reports from Board meetings, committee meetings and other projects staff are working on. But they’re not working. And deep down, I knew this.

So, this employee and I talked about what might make the meetings better and more productive. First, I have to reinforce that everyone has to be on time to the meetings. Perhaps, too, we need some kind of fun activity or team exercise to round out all of the day-to-day business talk. If anything, our conversation got me thinking. And once I’m thinking, it’s hard for me to let it go.

Back in my office, I began to think about a meeting model that was used at one of my past jobs. At the time, our staff had taken a day-long seminar at a local winery, discussing how to be a better team and gaining some tools that we could take place to the office to keep up the momentum. The real problem came when I couldn’t recall what the name of the program, or the book, was called. (It had been eight years since I took part in the seminar.) A quick text to my past boss got me the answer, and immediately, I was online – going to the book.

The book and seminar in which I took part was on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Told via a narrative, the book takes its reader through five issues that teams need to address in order to be successful, including the absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. Since the book’s release in 2002, Mr. Lencioni has written several others in his straightforward and unique style. After a quick review of the “dysfunctions” online, most of what I had learned was coming back to me, and what I was truly looking for was Lencioni’s meetings framework that had proved so useful to our team eight years ago.

With the particular challenge of making our meetings better, my attention landed on another of Lencioni’s books, Death by Meetings, The Advantage, and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide. I purchased, read and studied them all (with lots of marginalia). I won’t go into great detail about the books, but I would encourage you to give them a look. What I will say is that going to these books has given me the foundation and framework to begin building better meetings at the Museum with my staff. From quick daily check-ins to weekly, clearly focused tactical meetings to monthly strategy sessions to quarterly off-site reviews, I’m excited to work through the program, if you will, with my staff, who will be introduced to the idea this morning! I’m anticipating some questions and, maybe, some push back, so I’ll have to draw on everything I know about managing people through change. That reminds me, I might need to go to another book for a refresher – Who Moved My Cheese!

What are your thoughts on meetings in your organization? Do you look forward to them? Do you loathe them? What does your team do during meetings to keep them fresh, to secure commitment and to move your organization forward?

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