It started with a kiss …

by Linda Feerick

It started with a kiss…. kiss

…well it didn’t actually but at least I have your attention! Last week I chaired our monthly Alliance meeting. The first item on the agenda is always ‘Positive Beginnings’ and it is one of the items that never gets cancelled or shifted. So, we sat in silence for a couple of minutes and then slipped into a discussion on the question ‘If you were invited on to Desert Island Discs’ (which happens to be on my bucket list but I think I have some work to do to get an invite) what would be your luxury item?’

In order to up the stakes, we also had to guess what our colleagues would choose. Quite an eye opener. What would possess eight people, who are busy folks, to invest their time in starting a meeting in this way? The simple answer is that it is our unshakeable belief that how you start a meeting governs the whole tone and productivity of that meeting. Our clients demand a lot from us, we work hard and we have to be smart about where we focus our attention.

Between us, we have clocked up 71 years of Alliance experience, and at least double that outside of the Alliance. We have attended or facilitated thousands of meetings. What we regularly see is executives arriving at a meeting with their head and attention still fixed on their previous meeting or conversation. We ask a lot of our mental energy when we make quick shifts from one task to the next, often in rapid succession and through a long day. A few years ago we agreed that we didn’t want our Alliance meetings to be like that so we spent time working out how to get the best possible start. And ‘Positive Beginnings’ was our answer. This gives our brains time to rest and reenergise thereby enabling us to be at our best throughout the meeting.

Another discovery is that the silence while we think about what we’d like to say and share creates a level of connection that non-stop chatter doesn’t. In my executive days there were very few colleagues with whom I could be comfortably silent. It felt awkward and unnatural. As a coach I was trained in the power of silence and have witnessed many times the brilliant insights that this space creates for our clients. Uninterrupted our brains unearth new thoughts and possibilities.

Fun seems to be missing from some meetings. I have humour as a strength, and whilst I don’t plan on a career as a stand-up comedian any time soon, I do like to have fun with my colleagues. That’s what the Desert Island piece was all about. We could tease each other about our choices (a treadmill? really???), laugh at ourselves and let others see a side of us that isn’t our work persona. Having fun enables us to be child-like, creative and vulnerable, qualities that are essential for high performing teams. Don’t get me wrong, starting a meeting in this way doesn’t create a non-stop party atmosphere. During our meeting last week for instance, we had some tough conversations about our financial performance and strategic direction. ‘Positive beginnings’ don’t let you off the hook of saying what needs to be said but it does make it easier as the climate is one of acceptance.

Here comes the ‘so what’ bit. We would encourage you to give attention to how you start your meetings. What might you do to create an atmosphere of trust, acceptance and great decisions? Be bold and slow down the busy people who walk into the meeting. It might feel odd at first, but it will create something very special. Try it – and if you do, let us know how it goes!