Join Jeff Weiner for an in-depth discussion in this video Meeting dynamics, part of On Leadership by Jeff Weiner.
- Last, little more pragmatically, meeting dynamics. So we're building the right team, we're reading the room, we're paying attention, we're utilizing self awareness, team awareness, what are some constructs that enable us to create more productive meetings? We spend the vast majority of our time with other folks, coworkers, colleagues, people we work for, the people that work with us, for us in meetings. How can you get the most out of meetings? First and foremost, sounds obvious, never ceases to amaze me how few people take the time to do this, identify what problem you're trying to solve. If you ever find yourself in a meeting and the meeting objectives have not been clearly stated, or you start to rattle in any way, shape, or form, hit the pause button and say, sorry, what are we trying to solve for again? And you'll be amazed at how quickly things come back into alignment. You'll be amazed. Oftentimes, we just get sucked into wherever the dialogue takes us. Remember all those triggers we were identifying earlier, that's typically where the meeting goes, where the triggers are most significant, most severe. Or, where the emotion is most heightened. They're like magnets for attention, but you got to bring the attention of that room back to the problem that you're trying to solve for, clearly state it up front and during the meeting, if you go astray from that, try to bring it back to the problem you're trying to solve for. On your cover slide, this meeting will be a success if. Lay it out as clear as you can. Whoever's driving that meeting needs to harken back to those objectives. I wouldn't go higher than three, the rule of three, there it is again. And with about 10 to 15 minutes left in that meeting, come back to the cover slide, say did we hit the things that would make this meeting a success? Second, balance at least two dimensions to create effective meetings. The first is balancing between presentation and discussion, I'll come back to that in just a second, and the second is striking the right balance between tension and patience. Let's start with presentation and discussion. Like every other organization I've worked for, for years and years and years, when I went to a meeting, I just expected somebody was going to get up in the front of the room and present. Worked on a PowerPoint presentation, they'd get up and they'd just talk. Regardless of whether or not people in the audience were interested, regardless of whether or not people in the audience knew what they were talking about, regardless of whether or not people in the audience had heard it all before, they just would talk. And what would you do as a polite member of the team? Listen. Listen and think to yourself, what in the world and I'm doing at this meeting? This could not be a bigger waste of time if it was set up to do that. All right, how many meetings have you been in like that? Your time is too valuable, okay? What we started to evolve towards is a model that I learned from Jeff Bezos in Amazon, where they don't even use PowerPoint for the most part, they use a Word Doc, it's limited to six pages, and it's sent out prior to the meeting and you're expected to read it. And, he's a busy guy, got a lot on his plate, he reads it in the meeting. Carves out 10 minutes to read the document at the meeting before the meeting starts. It's like library hours. And so, I read that and I was like wow, that's interesting, sounds kind of crazy. People sitting around at a meeting reading before the meeting gets started. And no presentations, just a discussion about the document? Novel, let's try it. And we tried it and we haven't looked back. Every meeting I've attended, ever since then, I don't know how many years ago, five, six, seven, maybe more years ago, every meeting I go to, the materials are sent the night before. Some of you may not realize this, at least the night before. It can't be sent any later than that. And then to kick the meeting off, we provide 10 minutes for everyone to read who didn't read and then we open up for discussion, typically the person who prepared the materials will start by setting some context for a couple minutes, then we open it up. Most productive meetings I've ever been in. So you want to strike the right balance between presentation and discussion. And just because people are up presenting, just don't stop there, don't take it at face value, if it's not creating value. Start with what you're trying to solve for and make sure that's where the energy is being directed. Okay, second area to balance is between tension and patience. If you're in a meeting and everyone's being super polite, and someone's presenting something that's not going particularly well and no one speaks up about the problem and challenges assumptions and creates maybe a greater sense of urgency and provides and adds a little tension to the discussion, something's off. There's got to be some tension in the system. Creative, constructive, productive, valuable tension. If everyone's just kind of sitting, twiddling their thumbs and thinks that's being compassionate when something's not working, remember what we talked about, how compassion should fuel difficult discussions? And it should be setting the bounds for difficult discussions, absolutely essential. Okay, so there's tension. Now in patience, this took me years to learn, but there's an optimal level of patience. I used to think you just want to maximize patience, but that's not the case. If you are constantly patient, you're going to allow bad behavior, big mistakes, the wrong activity to perpetuate. Conversely, if you are too impatient, sometimes takes much longer than you would've intuitively recognized or realized for new ideas, new investments, to start to generate the right kind of traction and momentum. There's an optimal level of patience and I wish I could tell you exactly what that was and there was some kind of formula or cookie cutter, there's not and you're going to have to learn this for yourselves, but recognize, it's like goldilocks, you know. The porridge can be too hot, it can be too cold, you want it just right. Last, has anyone ever heard me talk about the unintended consequences of casual feedback? And this has happened on more than one occasion. It used to happen far more before I joined LinkedIn. I'm very active in product discussions, product reviews as some of you may know and sometimes I have very strong opinions and sometimes I'll forget the position that I occupy. And I'll provide feedback and thoughts, thinking as a consumer, not thinking as the CEO. So, someone will be presenting something and I'll say for by way of example, hey, can we make it a different color? Have you guys considered red versus yellow? And they'll say oh, that's an interesting suggestion and I'll say okay, and we just keep going and then it turns out, like six weeks later, you get an email, the project's delayed. Project's delayed, why is the project delayed? You guys said everything was going incredibly well, I don't understand, we just reviewed this, they say you just told the team to change the color. And they had to change the whole palette, it doesn't work if we have to go from one color to the other, we had to just kind of reorient, this whole just massive downstream implications. I said I never said to change the color. I said, have you ever considered changing the color? So what happened? Because I was in a senior position, because I was an authority figure, I tried to provide feedback as an individual, but I wasn't being seen as an individual and that feedback was interpreted as a mandate. Change the color. The more responsibility you have, the more influence you have within an organization, the more people will weight your words, by the way, it's not just your words, it's everything. It's your words, your gestures, it's your voice inflection, it's all of it, all of it. The more senior you become, the more aware you need to be of how the things that you're saying and how your behavior's being interpreted, okay? So I had, it's funny we were just talking about the importance of tension and constructive feedback and being open and transparent, and a guy I had grown up with, I had known since I was nine who I used to work with at this prior company, he had seen this dynamic play out one too many times. He worked for me and he managed a large team and he wrote me an email and he said you need to be aware of what's happening when you provide this feedback and then leave the room. Because it's all anyone's talking about. And I said but that's not, you know me, that wasn't my intention. He said I know you, I grew up with you, they don't see you like that, they see you as an EVP. And I said wow, okay, so this seems like a pretty straightforward thing to solve for, let's do this. How about I'm really explicit about the feedback that I'm giving in terms of the type of feedback it is. So rule three again, I told you there was going to be a lot of rule of threes, how about we go with one person's opinion, that I'm making a suggestion, just like anyone else could make a suggestion, take it or leave it. So one person's opinion, that'll be the first tier. Second tier feedback will be a strong suggestion. Strong suggestion. I will leverage my own decades of experience, watching what's worked and what's not worked and I will express my opinion, but I'm going to create the space for the team to not necessarily take the advice that I'm giving and they can disagree and move in a different direction. And I'm doing that very consciously, knowing that if they don't listen and they potentially, let's say, I could be wrong, but if they potentially make a mistake, that's okay. That's okay, it's not going to be the end of the world. It's not going to do lasting harm or damage. If it is going to do lasting harm or damage, you don't make it a strong suggestion, you make it a mandate, which was the third tier of feedback. The mandate. You're in a meeting, the team's going down a path and you've seen it before or you just know it, and I just say, this is not good. And this is going to end up hurting you as an individual and or the team, and or our company, and it is going to be difficult to walk back and this is not just going to be a valuable lesson learned. It's going to be something we wished we had avoided to begin with. So I'm going to leverage my position and my decision-making authority and I'm going to tell you we need to do it differently. That's a mandate. Three tiers of feedback, one person's opinion, strong suggestion, or the mandate. In nearly 11 years of working at LinkedIn, you know how many mandates I've issued? It's not three, it's more than three, but it's less than 10, I can count on two hands how many mandates I've issued or given and it frankly, I may be able to count it on one hand, I'm not even sure it's greater than five, but you want to be very circumspect when you use the mandate, why? You issue too many mandates and something's very wrong. Because in a perfect world, you build a right team, you set them up to be successful, and then you get out of their way. Full stop. If you think you've built the right team, you think you've set them up to be successful in terms of what you're trying to accomplish, how you're trying to accomplish it, and then rather than get out of their way, you are constantly getting involved or saying, you need to change this, something's way off. Teams need to have a certain degree of autonomy and every now and again, hopefully they can learn valuable lessons from you, which is one of the reasons you're in the position that you're in, but if that's all you're doing is issuing mandates, either they're not the right team, or you're not managing the right way, or some combination of those two things. How do you ensure the strong suggestion is not interpreted as a mandate? You have the right people in place. You have people who don't want it to be a mandate, who want to be making the decision, who want the ball in their hands for the last-minute shot. Those are the people you want on your team. To the extent they're interpreting strong suggestions as mandates, they may be risk averse, or they may not be ready to have the kind of influence in decision making ability you're providing them. 'Kay and you can also just be super explicit when you say it. Hey this is a strong suggestion, I don't mean strong suggestion parenthetically a mandate, I'm not being passive aggressive, it is a strong suggestion. If you disagree, I understand that and I understand that you may go down a different direction. It's okay, just be super explicit.
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