Conversations are contextual. They meander, move in unintended directions, and give way to discovery. For this to happen, flexibility is key. Control, agendas, and procedures impeded conversation, focusing on the structure of the meeting rather than the topics at hand. If you want people to engage in and feel they’ve derived value from your meeting, make them feel respected, not restricted.
“Only those who respect the personality of others can be of real use to them” ~ Albert Schweitzer
The truly “Lean” meeting is democratized. The agenda is replaced with a backlog. Attendees choose both the topics and the order in which they will be discussed. The meeting isn’t confined to previously established topics. Attendees can introduce new topics into the backlog at any time, and the group can prioritize or re-prioritize them on the fly. Quite often, new topics will spontaneously emerge as the conversation evolves. When this happens, it’s perfectly okay for someone to notice that a new topic has entered the flow and to add it to the DOING column.
“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it” ~ Lao Tzu
Flexibility is strength. Rigid structures topple and collapse in an earthquake, so structural engineers design skyscrapers and bridges that are flexible enough to withstand seismic shock and move without collapsing. Conversation is the same way. Suppose you’re in a meeting about developing new markets, and there’s a set agenda involving direct sales to Asia. Ten minutes in, your affiliate program becomes relevant. While it is certainly germane to the discussion and an easy transition to make, technically it’s not in the meeting’s agenda and so you’re forced to put off discussing it until a future meeting.
In a democratized and lean meeting, the introduction of this new albeit relevant topic to the queue would be seamless, and the conversation would continue.
This acknowledges the natural, unimpeded progression of the conversation and gives participants the opportunity to continue with the original discussion, adapt to the new topic, or table the new topic for a future meeting. The meeting participants have the freedom and the flexibility to discuss and innovate. The meeting and its direction are now creative and interactive.
*Photo by Tonianne