I have shelves full of the latest and greatest management books. Sadly, many of these tomes look brand new. I didn’t make it beyond a few chapters. Priya Parker’s “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters” has proven to be different. I read an excerpt a few months ago (in a lifestyle magazine of all places), but her premises ring true for our convenings – both professional and personal. Most of us live lives stuffed with meetings and events – staff meetings, client meetings, conferences, birthday parties, baby showers, dinner parties. They’ve become formulaic. We go through the same old motions. Lather, rinse, repeat. Staff meeting = project updates, budget review, calendar check. Birthday party = games, food and cake, present opening, send-off with party favors. Sound familiar?
What Ms. Parker stresses is choosing a purpose when meeting and committing to a gathering about something. She says “Having a purpose simply means knowing why you’re gathering and doing your participants the honor of being convened for a reason. Make it meaningful. “But we’ve always done it this way” is not a purpose.
Crafting Your Purpose: Take the reason you think you are gathering, then ask why you’re doing it. “Every time you get to another, deeper reason, ask why again. Keep asking why until you hit a belief or value,” urges Ms. Parker.
Here’s an example: The weekly 2-hour staff meeting.
Why do you have a weekly staff meeting? We don’t get to see each other face-to-face very often.
Why do you not see each other face-to-face often? Because our team members are on the road and in the field most of the time.
Why is the team in the field most of the time? It’s important for us to see and be seen by our customers.
And why is that important? We want to understand their business first-hand, and we want to see and hear their challenges.
You’re seeking insights that will help you design the gathering. In this case, what do you learn about the current staff meeting structure? Does spending that time in the office weekly give team members enough time to connect and process what they’re seeing in the field? Would you be better off meeting less frequently but longer? Is the agenda designed mostly for a “talking head” presenting information? Does the agenda instead give peers the opportunity to bring customer challenges to the table, and for the team to brainstorm solutions collaboratively?
The answers may vary from company to company, but it’s worth assessing the purpose of your own gatherings, asking the why’s, and exploring the insights you unearth.