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As a leader, you’ll be both hosting and going to a lots of meetings. If it’s something you get great at, it will have a huge impact on both your happiness, and the happiness of those you work with.
Here’s what I’m going to be covering in this blog post:
- plan for success
- create psychological safety
- ask for feedback on facilitation
Let’s jump in… I often end up talking to clients about upcoming meetings that they are nervous about. Here are the questions I typically ask that help them host a successful meeting:
The first question really forces them to think about what outcome they want. Will the group arrive at a decision? Will people give their feedback? Will everyone be more informed about something?
Are the right people going to be in the room? If the meeting is about making a decision, you will likely need to include all the stakeholders. If more people tend to show up than are truly necessary, you may need to un-invite some of the attendees to create a more manageable group. When I’m thinking about who to invite and how big to make it, I like to keep in mind that a group of 10 engineers for an hour costs about $1000 in salary.
Is the decision maker clear? Are you asking for the group to reach consensus? Or give you opinions that you or someone else will use to decide?
What went wrong? How would you prevent it?
So, those are some of the logistics I like to consider.
The next thing that has a huge impact on meetings is psychological safety. This might sound touchy-feeling, but it’s grounded in scientific research:
In 2012, Google did a research project called Project Aristotle. A manager in the People Analytics dept studied 180 of Google’s most successful teams, to try to figure out what makes them tick. He was thinking that maybe the most successful teams would be all introverts, or have a particular style of meeting, but the research showed that the most successful teams really came down to only two things:
Conversational turn-taking is the when everyone on the team speaks roughly the same amount (not that everyone goes in a circle and gets 3m each to speak, but on average, everyone talks the same amount over time). High social sensitivity is the ability to read how other people are feeling based on their tone of voice, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues.
Psychology researchers refer to conversational turn-taking and high social sensitivity as aspects of Psychological safety, which is a fancy way of saying that you won’t get embarrassed or rejected for saying wrong thing. So, Google’s research indicates that psychological safety, more than anything else, is critical to making a team work.
Here is another fascinating piece of research from UCLA’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab in 2008, from Matthew Liberman & Naomi Eisenberg. The same part of your brain (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) registers signals for both physical pain & social pain.
So when someone says “my arm hurts” and “my feelings are hurt”, it is literally the same place in their brain that is registering that information.
So what does this research suggest? That the workplace is a SOCIAL SYSTEM, even for engineers.
Think back to the last time you were humiliated in a meeting. Most of us remember things like this really well. How did it feel in your body? How nice would it have been for someone to speak up for you?
What I find fascinating (and a bit terrifying), is that most engineering cultures of full of small microagressions related to ignorance. I’m not even talking about race or gender-based micro aggressions. Here are some of the things I have personally witnessed:
Essentially, they communicate to people in a meeting that you’d better watch your step, because not knowing something can be dangerous. As a leader, you can (and should) stop this; here’s how:
First, you can share the results of the Google and UCLA studies with your team. I am often surprised by the pushback I get after sharing these; leaders say things like “well how am I going to work with people who are incompetent?!?” Of course you should insist that people learn things that are critical for their work; the point of psychological safety is that is OK to not know now as long as you are willing to learn.
Other things you can do are to reframe things you hear in meetings (whether you are a facilitator or a participant!), or speak for people who might not speak up for themselves. You could say “if I were Steve, I would feel put down by what you just said”. I want all of us to be able to be honest if we don’t know something. You can also include mentoring and teaching in your career ladder, so that it’s clear it’s a skill that is valued. Finally, you can model not knowing yourself, by asking people on your team to explain things to you that you don’t know, rather than just faking it or asking in private. Seeing a powerful example of a leader asking for help or more information makes it safe for others to do so!
My final tip about more happiness in meetings is regularly asking for feedback. Have you ever sat in a really boring meeting, agonizingly waiting for it to be over? How would your experience change if you knew the facilitator would ask for feedback at the end, and be willing to change based on your suggestions? Asking for regular feedback in meetings unlocks the wisdom of the participants, so that they don’t feel trapped, AND it’s likely you’ll hear some great ways that you can improve as a faciliator. It might feel risky at first, but it’s amazing how quickly you can learn with regular feedback.
Finally, be unfailingly kind (h/t to Michael Lopp for this). You have no idea who in your next meeting might be going through a divorce, struggling with a difficult child or parent, suffering from an illness that you can’t see, or just having a bad day. If doing it for other people isn’t sufficient motivation, kindness and generosity have been linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, better mental and physical health, and generous people even live longer.
I hope you can use these tips to create one of the most successful and happy teams at your company!
If you’re interested in a class on engineering leadership, click here!
View slide deck! Calibrate 2016: How to Grow Your Happiness In Meetings
I’ve run across this situation with startup CxO coaching clients three times in the past week, so it felt like a good time to write about it…
Here is the scenario: You realize that you need to hire a more experienced leader for an existing team, and there is lots of resistance to making the hire: the team doesn’t see the value in bringing on someone more senior, they think it will ruin their existing freewheeling culture, or they are confused that you want to replace a leader who is well-liked (but not performing well).
Here is the deal: they often don’t know what a great leader would look, sound, or feel like, or what they would contribute to the team. Early hires tolerate uncertainty & chaos well, and value a lack of structure. To them, you are “ruining” a great thing. They have heard (or lived) the horror stories of bad managers, so they value strong individual contributors who can organize people around them reasonably well, and who primarily represent the core values & beliefs of the team. You, on the other hand, are looking for a solid people manager who will provide some more structure, accountability, & mentoring, who will contribute to a broader strategy and to the exec team, can act more autonomously, and who will balance the demands of the business with the needs of the team.
You’ve announced that the hire is underway, you’ve written a job description, and you’re bringing in candidates. The team interviews possible leaders, and because they can’t actually envision what a more skilled/senior leader would look like, they screen for what they would look for in a peer (ability to do the hands-on job of senior individual contributor is usually what they look for), and overlook the qualities that would make them a great leader: people skills, ability to lead a team in making a decision, planning, accountability, and collaboration with peers to solve complex company-wide problems. The post-interview meetings devolve into arguments about what you’re looking for, and you start questioning your sanity, especially if you haven’t hired for this role before. You feel like you’re totally wasting your time talking to the team that’s arguing about this, and you wonder if the drama will ever end…
The assumption that most drives people nuts about this one is that they dearly want it to be a collaborative process; they value getting the input & buy-in from those around them, and they can’t understand why the team won’t fall in line and help with the hire.
I can think of at least two paths to follow, both with pros and cons…
“Values are the foot you leave on the floor when you pivot.” – Eric Ries
This was Eric Ries’ response earlier this month, when I asked him if he had any thoughts about company values. I love the mental picture this creates; of a team with one foot planted so solidly in their values that they can use that as an anchor when making a decision about where to go next when they realize that customers don’t love their product, or when their business model isn’t working.
We don’t usually blog about movies, but wanted to recommend The Happy Movie (playing in San Francisco at the Roxie theater through the end of next week, free screening tomorrow night). We met Academy Award nominated director Roko Belic, who spent five years journeying around the world researching the question “what makes people happy?”
The movie looks in on people around the world (Calcutta, Okinawa, Lousiana, Bhutan, and more!), and demonstrates by example and through research that the people who are the happiest are not the people who are focused on external motivations (money, fame & social status), but rather internal motivations (relationships, community, helping others). The movie did an especially good job of highlighting how powerful it is to have a tight-knit family or group of friends.
It also points out that the happiest people are the highest functioning. In other words, make sure you’re happy to make sure you’re performing at your best.
Startup founders who are able to continue putting value on intrinsic motivations (relationships, community, and helping others) are more able to weather the fickle storms of fame and fortune, and remain happy throughout the process, regardless of whether their company somedays files for an IPO, closes its doors, or anywhere in between.
The movie is worth seeing; hope you like it, and would love to hear your thoughts!
The idea of Quantified Self is that you take ongoing measurements about things that you’re interested in knowing more about, and changing, like sleep, diet, exercise, and mood (aka self-tracking). Software developers are notoriously interested in improving and optimizing things (not just code!), and many QS’ers seem to have a background in computing.
I’ve spoken before (at SxSW 2011 with Dinah Sanders) about Agile Self Development. We’re excited about repurposing the vast, rich body of tools and methods called Agile Software Development, and using it to help people improve themselves. At SxSW, we had a lively chat with a few hundred attendees about how to get the most out of the conference. Out of that experience, Scott Pierce (who attended the talk), started an Agile Self Development group in Birmingham that hosts a daily standup, and has made tremendous progress in moving toward goals.
Recently we attended Eric Ries’ second Startup Lessons Learned Conference, which focuses on the concept of the Lean Startup. A Lean Startup is an organization that is optimized for creating the most validated customer learning in the shortest amount of time. It’s a new-ish concept, only a few years old, but it’s gathering steam quickly in the startup world. They use the mandate: “Build, Measure, Learn”. They start by assuming that you don’t know anything until you get out of the building and come into contact with real customers, and the most learning comes when you put product in their hands. Releasing an early beta in weeks is better than building a product in “stealth mode” for years before unleashing a well-polished, ready-to-scale flop.
We are hoping that the QS community will find the tools in Agile Software Development and Lean Startup communities to be useful in conducting experiments and creating change; we think that it’s a great place to borrow from. Some useful concepts from this body of knowledge are:
- minimum viable product
- doing experiments as a series of sprints
- daily standups
- pair programming
- information radiators
- retrospective meetings
Postscript: looks like Thomas Christiansen is using Agile and QS on a project related to allergies; more info at <a href="MyMee.
Agile Self-Development is a lightweight methodology for personal development that is a reaction against all-or-nothing goals and resolutions. It lets geeks repurpose Agile tools and methodologies with which they may already be familiar.
Dinah Sanders wrote a lovely Agile Self-Development Manifesto that really resonates with me:
- Increasing individual flow using whatever works over adherence to a system
- Quality of life over quantity of achievement
- Simplicity over complexity
- Responding to change over following a script
BSP: Dinah Sanders and I are hosting a core conversation about Agile Self Development at SXSW, on Saturday, March 12th, at 11am in room Rio Grande B at the Marriott Courtyard, 300 East 4th Street (half a block from the northwest door to the convention center).
When I start working with a new coaching client, they often arrive with a massive list of everything that they want to accomplish in their work and their life. Desires are limitless! This situation reminds me of a CEO who is hungry for every single feature in a software product to be implemented immediately. So how to begin? Here is what we do next:
One of the most challenging hurdles for early entrepreneurs is raising money. To get funded, you need to do a lot of prep work: you need a great vision, savvy initial product development, thorough market understanding, thoughtful execution, a kick-ass team, and luck.
A critical part of fundraising is connecting with people; both the people who will help you along the road, and the people who will actually write a check.