Introducing New Habits in the Meeting Room

When I was in primary school the principal decided that it would be wise to play the Bulgarian Hymn before classes every single day, so they did. Pretty soon it got so annoying we staged a rebellion and they dropped it.

I realize other schools around the world may be doing it and you might think we were strange to revolt, but it’s hard to rope us in — Bulgarians I mean — if you try, you need to have a pretty fancy rope there, so when you try, we’re so preoccupied with how fancy it is that we forget what it’s there for. You know what I mean?

I have a theory about why this attempt didn’t pan out. Let’s examine the new habit they were trying to introduce to us:

  • it’s always the same, no alterations
  • it’s supposed to inspire us
  • it’s a show of respect

I see various problems with this method. First of all, we’re a bunch of kids, so we really don’t want to be showing respect to anybody instead of happily shuffling in our seats and passing notes. Secondly, after a couple of days it feels like you’re being forced into the same mind-numbing ritual every single day… like being force-fed pancakes every morning of your life.

You get bored. You want out. End of story.

Finally, the fact that it’s always the same suggests that the system works. When something works, you repeat it, over and over.

Okay… but do modern meetings work? I’ll let you answer that one.

If something does not work, don’t try to repeat it over and over, or else you’ll have a revolt at your hands.

Judging by the first two problems, I’ll conclude that the system was broken before it was introduced, thus rendering it completely useless.

In fact, I’ve seen many employees complain about daily scrum meetings for the following reason: instead of increasing productivity and morale, they’re viewed as “just another distraction”. Truth is, some people will see them as such and others won’t — it also depends on character. Ultimately you want to see which companies make it work and which couldn’t, so you can manage an informed opinion before you apply them yourself.

Which leads us back to the question… what is it exactly that makes new habits stick? Is it repetition? Judging by the story I gave you, repetition won’t fix something that’s broken. Is it authority? If the CEO says “we’ll have three-hour meetings every day from now till the end of days”, will people adhere to his command? Probably, but out of fear of losing their jobs. They won’t be looking forward to these meetings, that’s for sure.

So what is it?

In his TED talk about motivation, Dan Pink clearly states that intrinsic motivation works better than external stimuli. Bonuses are not enough when you dread the task or when it’s too hard to complete. This is why there are so many entrepreneurs nowadays — because by being their own bosses, they get to do the things they love. 

Tech giants like Google and Atlassian know that autonomy’s important, so they have created things like “do whatever you want” days and “ShipIt days”. They KNOW their employees, their values, and they respect their needs by meeting them, not just acknowledging them.

It shouldn’t be about someone telling you to do something. The idea should come from you, not from “them”.

Them being managers, CEO’s, and basically anyone in charge.

After I though about this for a while, I remembered Simon Sinek saying:

They don’t show up for us, they show up for themselves.

That’s it! People pick up new habits when they want to pick them up. It’s so obvious and yet so overlooked. Granted, you do your job and everything that’s required of you, but when you don’t like it, productivity saps.

So how can you introduce new habits that people will want to pick up?

Ask them. By learning to ask powerful questions, you are connecting to your team in a powerful way. You’re engaging them.

So ask them what they think would fix the “constant interruptions” problem (in some offices they use headphones). Ask them — individually — how they handle the flood of emails in their inbox (maybe it’s “inbox zero” or a template system). Ask them what hours they’re most productive in (which depends on whether they’re early birds or night owls) and whether they would like the option to take work home or leave it at the office (Volkswagen employees are not allowed to access email after work hours). Ask them whether they would like to try walking meetings. Ask them how the ideal meeting should go.

Percolate has the following rules:

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Your team should easily come up with an even better one if you care enough to ask them and listen to their answers. You don’t have to be the disengaged, arrogant boss, micromanaging everyone. You can be the humble leader your team needs to evolve. You can be better than those before you. Let this be your competitive advantage, not trying to copy someone famous.

I will let you mull this over, but consider the alternative —judging by every meeting you’ve ever had, meetings continue to be unproductive and boring. Nothing changes, nobody does anything about it, you waste money, time, and stress over results while employee engagement declines.

To overcome the same old problems, you must introduce new solutions.

And when you figure it out, tell us! We’d love to hear about it. 🙂

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P.S. And keep your meetings organized with the Meeting Canvas. Hah-yah!

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