Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Experience Meetings a New Way

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Experience Meetings a New Way

This posting is based on and adapted from the section "Seeing from Within an Organization" in the book Presence by Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers.

Edgar Schein, a founder of the field of organizational psychology, said "If you want to understand an organization's culture, go to a meeting."

To experience meetings in a new way, consider how you can apply Schein's insights in a systematic way. Rather than participating normally, pay attention to what is going on ... and to your own reactions.

  • Who speaks? Who doesn't?
  • What issues are addressed? Which are avoided?
  • What's the pink elephant in the room that no one will mention?
  • Who is listened to? Who isn't?
  • What kinds of words figure promptly in the language of the powerful? the ignored?
  • What can you learn from the body language?
For the aficionado of meetings and office politics, there's nothing new to those questions. Where the new learning often comes is through reflecting on your own thoughts and feelings.

During the meeting, take quick note of your reactions. Later look at the event in detail, consider what you heard, what you say, and what you felt.

  • When do you feel safe? feel threatened?
  • When are you confused? When are you clear on what is being said?
  • Where were you fully present and engaged? Where were you distracted?
  • Were you feeling conflict? feeling in agreement?
  • What assumptions of your own are you noticing?
Then stretch your experience even further and imagine how different people were experiencing the same events. What do you learn about yourself by imagining the experience of others?

In spending the time to process your experience over a series of meetings alone and with your coach, you will deepen your understanding of the organization's culture - its norms, beliefs and fundamental assumptions. You can start to see yourself as a part of that culture, noticing where you contribute to the patterns of behavior. And perhaps you'll finally ask yourself the question,

What am I doing - in my actions, thoughts and feelings - to maintain these patterns as they are?
... and then,

Is this what I want to be doing?

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