We’ve all been in The Meeting From Hell. You know the one; nothing really gets done, the tension in the room is heavy and there doesn’t seem to be enough air. People dig imaginary foxholes to cover themselves and their teammates from the verbal barrages of leaders. The emotions created by the meeting range from apathy and boredom, to mild anger and resentment, to outright hostility, and sometimes to physical threats. If you have not been in this meeting before consider yourself lucky. If you know it all too well, I feel for you. And if you are the leader who has created this meeting, shame on you.
There is hope though.
I call it Croft’s Law of Organizational Culture, and it is a derivative of a famous law called Conway’s Law. Named for computer programmer Melvin Conway, Conway’s Law was introduced by Conway in 1968 at a computer symposium. Conway’s Law was this: “Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” (Conway, 1968)
Put another way: if an organization is highly structured and takes a methodical approach to the design of a software program, then that program will be highly structured and methodical. Conversely, if the organization is a loose team that is more open and non-structured, then the program will also be more open, loose, and non-structured.
There are similar phenomena happening in organizations all the time.
Here is Croft’s Law: “The conversations that senior leaders have in their boardrooms and meeting rooms are a direct driver of the conversations and outcomes that happen on the floor of the organization.”
For instance, if the conversations in the boardroom are about keeping score, retribution, and are fueled by negative emotions, ineffective requests and offers, then the same types of conversations will happen on the organization’s floor where the actual production takes place. The quality of the conversations (both in substance and in the moods and emotions they create) in an organization’s leadership team will determine the commitment and engagement of the entire workforce and the quality of their final product.
As a leader, here are some questions to consider. The answers will tell you what you are creating in your organization:
- What mood or emotion do your team members take with them at the end of a meeting? Are the moods and emotions positive (ambition, awe, fun, wonder, joy, and excitement)? Or, are your team members leaving with negative moods and emotions (resentment, resignation, frustration, and anxiety)?
- Do the conversations in your meetings lead to commitments and promises that are fulfilled and completed on time and to standards? Or, do the conversations focus on blame, missed opportunities, failures, and raised voices?
- As a result of your meeting do your team members experience Flow — that place where they are engaged, bringing their full creativity and energy to the meetings? Or, is there a lack of Flow where people are just going through the motions and looking at their smartphones and watches, multitasking until the next meeting?
If you find that your organization is not performing at the level you wish, maybe it is time to look at where the real issue is: the conversations happening among the leaders. That is what determines what is possible in an organization, and it is up to you to change it if need be.