The Phenomenon of a Successful Meeting

When I started writing, I never imagined a day would come when I would feel compelled to write about a meeting. Yes, a MEETING worth writing about in a positive way!  I recently participated in the annual NHRA conference (National Human Resources Association…not Hot Rods!) and was involved in a true meeting phenomenon.

The conference kicked off on a Wednesday evening with a group of sixteen HR professionals, most of whom had never met one another. The NHRA affiliates of the east met the affiliates of the west at a rooftop bar in St. Louis.  Most HR professionals aren’t nearly as stuffy and straight laced as our stereotype implies, making cocktails and wine the perfect ice breaker!

The agenda for Thursday was somewhat ambiguous, stating “strategy meetings” from 8:30 – 2:00.  Because strategy can mean several different things (and sometimes doesn’t mean strategy at all), everyone entered the meeting a bit unsure of what to expect.  Our first task was to revisit our organization’s mission.  For those who have been through this process, it is often not an easy task. Everyone has their own ideas and individual egos have the potential to overpower collaboration.

To my surprise and delight, the expectations and desires of the group aligned around igniting progressive change.  What started out on Wednesday as a gathering of mostly strangers quickly evolved into an engaging, high energy dialogue about the future of our organization. In a matter of only a few hours, our collaborative leader Jamie Latiano Jacobs, navigated us through an exercise that resulted in a revised value set and simplified NHRA mission statement that would propel us forward.

What was responsible for making this meeting so effective?

Effective leadership
Jamie took a “sense and respond” approach, which immediately set a positive tone for the day. She responded to ideas with “yes, and” as opposed to “but” to keep the conversation open and when the group asked about a vision to accompany the mission, she empowered each affiliate to define their own with their local team.

Shared purpose
Believing deeply in the value of the work you’re doing is critical to feeling a sense of true purpose and accomplishment.  This group of unpaid volunteers did not come together to receive a paycheck but rather to support an organization that we all believe in.  What this group was able to accomplish in such a short time is a clear indicator of the power of intrinsic motivation.

Engagement and participation
It was refreshing to see an engaged group of active participants rather than people on their phones checking email or responding to text messages while others were talking. Because everyone was actively involved, there wasn’t a need to revisit or rehash topics that had already been covered and a level of mutual respect prevailed.

Mutual support
The level of idea and knowledge-sharing that took place was huge, and it was especially valuable for the newer affiliates who are still finding their way. By Friday, there was a great deal of energy and optimism around the future of the newer groups and what we could all take back to our local teams.

Trust and transparency 
We all brought our authentic selves to the meeting and felt free to speak up.  The environment was labeled by one group member as a “safe space” where we could openly share and collaborate without fear of judgement or reprisal.  Additionally, at no point did it feel like there was an elephant in the room or an undercurrent of more, being avoided.

At the end of the day, instead of seeing small groups of people go off into corners to debrief, people were talking about how successful the day had been!  How often do you hear words like productive, informative, decisive, inspiring, and fun used to describe a meeting?  With the above elements in play, perhaps a successful meeting can shift from a phenomenon to an expected norm.

“You know it is a successful trip when we work through the new mission statement, learn some history (the Gateway Arch) and take a party bus to dinner, all in the same day.” – Jillian Kraus, NHRA Orange County Affiliate