Speaking at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit in early October, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that “video meetings tend to be transactional,” and that finding new ways to replicate how workers interact during in-person groups is essential for today’s remote work environment.
Nadella’s observation matches what we have heard from many top leaders. In the early days of the pandemic, they were pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of their video meetings – people showed up prepared, everyone was careful not to talk over others, meetings started and ended on time. Now, however, they are increasingly worried about the effectiveness of these interactions.
Some meetings are meant to be transactional. Cash in the bank? Check. Deliveries on time? Check. Performance reviews going according to plan? Check.
Many meetings, however, can’t afford to be transactional. When someone calls a meeting, whether with two people or 40, they’re implicitly saying that they need to involve other people in order to accomplish something – whether it’s to solve something, plan something, align on something, create something, or make a decision. Solving, planning, aligning, deciding, and creating don’t result from transactional interactions. Rather, as we wrote in The Wall Street Journal, for matters that are important and entangled, a small, short meeting can be counterproductive.
Instead, what’s needed is meetings that enable high-performance SATDA – sensing, absorbing, thinking, deciding, acting.
As an individual, you perform SATDA every day. You regularly encounter threats and opportunities and are able to react with astonishing speed. For example, when you’re about to cross the street and see a car fast approaching, you immediately sense and absorb that the car is travelling faster than it should be, think through your options, decide on what you think is the best option, and act (likely stepping back from the curb). Same thing if you see a five dollar bill on the sidewalk. You sense and absorb that it’s real money, think through your options, decide what to do, and act (likely by picking it up and asking the person beside you if they accidentally dropped some money).
The purpose of most meetings is to collectively sense and absorb what’s going on, think through options, decide on the way forward, align on next steps, and mobilize everyone for action.
We’re accustomed to hearing that meetings are a big waste of time; video amplifies and adds to the dysfunction. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can tackle the big challenges over video. The tools and platforms exist. The talent and passion are all out there waiting to be tapped. It is now possible to involve anyone, anytime, anywhere. For leaders, the imperative is to provide the missing link in the interplay between tools, platforms, people – which is orchestration.
Here’s how to start:
1. Make the purpose of your meeting to answer a specific, important question. For example, what must we do to change the way we serve customers in a physically distanced world? Or, what should we do about all the commercial real estate we have in light of emerging trends for how and where work is done?
2. Be deliberate and expansive in who you bring to the meeting. We refer to that as requisite variety, which you can read about here.
3. Call it out. “Let’s not have a transactional meeting. Let’s go deep, let’s look at this from every angle. We’ve assembled all the right people to discuss this issue, so let’s get at it.”
4. Assign people different speaking roles. As we wrote here, designate some people as ‘Members’ who own the discussions. Assign some people as designated ‘Critics,’ who are invited in at intervals to critique, prod, coach, and help the Members get deeper and further. These are just a few easy steps, amongst many others you can read about in our book Cracking Complexity, that will help you move from transactional interactions, to deep, candid collisions that engage people, get to the heart of the matter, and keep people engaged until the issue is resolved and people are aligned.
Many myths become conventional truths until we consciously overturn them. Let’s heed Nadella’s warning about transactional meetings and do what it takes to ensure that his observation does not become a conventional truth. Given all the complex challenges we face, and incredible opportunities we can seize, there is too much at stake.
Original article posted on Forbes on Oct 26, 2020
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