The Magic Of Painful Meetings

You just led a meeting and you feel pretty good. Tasks were checked off, progress appears to be made and everyone seemed pretty happy at the end. Guess what – it was a waste of time. Odds are you missed an opportunity to raise the bar.

The whole point of bringing people together is collaborate. Collaborate means to work together, to labor together, to create something together. How can you create something of value if everyone is happy and calm? How can you elevate results when there is no pain?

Many leaders operate from delusion that people acting happy around them means everything is good. Don’t they realize that their employees’ careers ride on being liked by their boss? Most people will go out of their way to avoid conflict in front of their boss. Our research confirms that 82% of employees are “yes people”. They will act positive in front of leaders. That is not a bad thing by itself. These are the bulk of the people who have to make organizations run. They want and seek stability and order. They are not, however, going to stand up and say “I have a better way” unless you poke and prod them.

The best leaders operate from the opposite belief: focus on the pain. Increase the conflict. That is where the elevation comes from. The magic of meetings are in the difficult conversations – the challenging opinions, the clash of ideas, the topics no one wants to discuss.

Henry Ford, Roger Ailes, Steve Jobs, held explosive meetings. People feared having them and often left in shock. The result was innovation and progress.

Saturday Night Live is having its 40th anniversary in a few days – SNL is widely seen as the epitome of entertainment excellence. The precursor to SNL was the Show of Shows in the early 1950’s. It was filled with comedic geniuses: Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Sid Caeser, Imogene Coca, and Carl Reiner. These artists met the each week to create the best skits. Do you think these meetings were calm and everyone left happy? Absolutely not. They were battles. Battles of ideas, wits and egos. Everyone in the room wanted to get their ideas on air. The result: the battles elevated the collaboration to create the best television of its time and a key inspiration for SNL.

The same is true in business. If you have talented people on your team, you must create some pain in your meetings to get the best result. For example, an executive team we worked with was having a major sales slump. Turns out they went 6 months with no pain. 6 months of meetings making nice, when in the background they were working hard to undermine each other. No wonder why they were not producing. To put a stop to it we brought them together and had them all make a list of what was pissing them off about each other. Within 3 hours, the issues were all on the table and they realized that unless they started bailing out the boat together, they would all sink – together! They went on to have their best year in 3 years.

Meetings are a predictor of overall team performance. Bad meetings show bad management. Bad meetings means people aren’t telling each other the truth, or else future meetings would be improved or removed from calendars.

So instead of avoiding the pain, head straight for it. Ask for, listen to, bring up and discuss the hard questions – this is where the magic is.

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