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All we do is have meetings...

  1. 1. “All we do is have meetings”: What meetings tell us about group dynamics and workplace culture @drjcurran Dr John Curran Organisational Anthropologist & Associates Consultant, Tavistock Institute of Human Relations
  2. 2. Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get (out) of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short
  3. 3. Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time
  4. 4. Meeting Purpose (a) Information sharing, (b) coordination of efforts, (c) internal conflict resolution, (d) negotiating status, (e) exchanging goods and mates, and (f) strengthening group cohesion.
  5. 5. Section name Helvetica 9pt Meetings as Ritual
  6. 6. “promote bonding among meeting attendees, allowing some time for socializing either at the beginning of a meeting or just before a meeting can be helpful. Previous research shows that conversations such as small talk in the pre- meeting phase can enhance the meeting experience and overall meeting effectiveness, particularly for attendees who are introverted”. Lehmann-Willenbrock
  7. 7. ““The taboo topics may be those with the greatest potential for conflict OR those topics with the greatest potential for change and productivity improvements” Lehmann-Willenbrock
  8. 8. The things that everyone knows but are not supposed to talk about” Graeber
  9. 9. Section name Helvetica 9pt Defining the Role of Meetings
  10. 10. Official meaning refers to a clear purpose and/or goal that serves the aims of the organisation or company. This can be either based on sharing of knowledge and information, planning, scoping, actioning.
  11. 11. “In fight/flight the group behaves as if its purpose is to identify an external enemy or threat, which is has either to attack or to flee from. In dependency the group behaves as if it expects to be fed and nurtured by an omniscient leader. In pairing, the third basic assumption, the emotional state of the group is one of expectancy and hope. Typically all attention is focused on two members of the group…their pairing will produce the future leader, the messiah who will provide salvation.”(Miller,In Sher and Lawlor).
  12. 12. Section name Helvetica 9pt Case Study 1 Official Meaning: Fear
  13. 13. By unofficial I refer to the social interactions that are not focused on work or the primary task. They sit outside this, yet the meeting space provides a group space the unofficial performances to take place. They can come in the form of chit chat or comments about clothing that someone is wearing in the team.
  14. 14. Section name Helvetica 9pt Case Study 2 Unofficial Meaning: Water bottle
  15. 15. Section name Helvetica 9pt
  16. 16. Section name Helvetica 9pt
  17. 17. Impression management is a conscious or unconscious process in which people attempt to influence how other people see them in a certain way.
  18. 18. Section name Helvetica 9pt Categories of Meetings
  19. 19. Categories of Meetings Functional – work gets done Collaborative Formalised Informal Controlling Toxic Defensive Performative Fearful Conflictual
  20. 20. Section name Helvetica 9pt Culture Empathy Map
  21. 21. The Culture Empathy Map is used in three ways. 1) By the consultant 2) Team coaching 3) For leadership development
  22. 22. Routines & rituals Organisational structures Control systems Symbols Stories Power paradigm Johnson and Scholes
  23. 23. Mapping has been a source of theoretical discovery...Putting words down on paper makes them external and visible in a way that helps negotiate with the thoughts and feelings they represent Steve Potter
  24. 24. Doing ethnography enables us to examine how social order is produced as people go about their everyday interactions. Multiple sources of naturally-occurring data are used to understand how communities, organisations and institutions work, informally as well as formally. London School of Economics
  25. 25. From anthropology we take the idea of the use of self as instrument, the central role of observation in our work, the notion of the ‘field’ and the need for immersion in the field…The idea of understanding from multiple perspectives and multiple positions, the importance of narrative and story and hearing the stories of those experiencing the issues being explored and the concept of liminality Anne Benson
  26. 26. Culture is not scripted or shared as a manifesto but learnt over time by interacting in different fields. It becomes an embodied state of thinking and doing that frames a sense of rationality and values. What is normal is contained in symbolic, metaphorical and ritualised codes that are acted out in largely unconscious everyday performances” Curran
  27. 27. Section name Helvetica 9pt Mapping Culture In a meeting
  28. 28. Step One: One a piece of paper write down the purpose of the meeting Step Two: Who is attending the meeting? (one team or different departments – seniority) who has not showed up? Step Three: Meeting logistics – start time, role of the agenda (was it sent out before hand), who is facilitating the meeting? Physical location of meeting, set up of room Step Four: Describe how people are present in the meeting – levels of engagement, who sits where, what are people doing at the start of the meeting?
  29. 29. Step 5 What are the cultural ‘tool kits’ being used and performed? Is there a single tool kit or multiple ones at play. Is the result stability or friction in the meeting? The concept of cultural ‘tool kit’ was developed by the sociologist Ann Swidler who defines this as “symbols, stories, rituals, and world-views, which people may use in varying configurations to solve different kinds of problems”
  30. 30. The sentient system is made up of the social, human processes, symbols, meanings unconscious group forces, emotionally significant events and experiences. Members of the sentient system have attributes and beliefs based on their needs and fantasies and the patterns of identification that individuals have built up over time in relation to the role they hold in the organisation” (Sher, Lawlor, Brissett)
  31. 31. Step 6 Identify what type of ritualized behaviour are being used to meet the primary task of the meeting, disrupt the group from meeting the task, or defend ones of individual or groups identify from others. Understanding rituals and symbolic meaning are important part of the anthropologist’s interpretative thinking when making sense of any group or culture.
  32. 32. 1/ Rituals of power and authority The ways in which official hierarchy is maintained How policies and official practices are performed Acts and performances to preserve unofficial structures of power Usually formalized and repeated at the same time. Offers little room for resistance
  33. 33. 2/ Rituals of Change The ways in which we move from one state to a new one (liminality) A new role Meeting a project deadline working productively Takes place on both micro and macro levels A meeting or workshop Part of larger OD work
  34. 34. 3/ Rituals of Preservation Preserving an individual or team’s sense of identity A threat of change Feeling power is being imposed Lack of collaboration Can take place in formal or informal spaces/fields. Either subtle or highly theatrical
  35. 35. towards avoiding work on the primary task with the wish to evade reality when it is painful or causes psychological conflict within or between group members (Tavistock Institute of Human Relations)
  36. 36. Systems psychodynamics consultancy and organisational work transpose the individual model of development to institutions and group processes. Therefore, splitting associated with the paranoid- schizoid phase can occur between groups within institutions” (Sher and Lawlor)
  37. 37. Step 7 The final process is reflection and using self as data. This requires that the consultant or, if working in pairs, co- consultant reflect on their observations and initial hypothesis and then map their own emotional responses to being present within the meeting. This can also happen in supervision. Reflection works as a form of challenge; the ability to understand one’s own feelings towards a group and to expose one’s own unpleasant feelings and thoughts.
  38. 38. Section name Helvetica 9pt Case Study 3 Fight/Flight Strategy
  39. 39. Section name Helvetica 9pt Some Take Aways 1) Meetings are ritualised spaces that contain individuals and groups ideally to focus on the primary task 2) However, with this meta ritual are ritual performances that are used to either meet the goals of the meeting or disrupt the goals in order to preserve an individuals or subgroups identity against change or power and authority. 3) Everything that happens in a meeting is deemed ‘rational’…which means there is lots of irrationality. 4) Theories and methods from anthropology, sociologically and systems psychodynamics provides a rich tool kit to decode the complex performances that exist in meetings. 5) The Culture Empathy Map provides a tool for consultants, coaches and teams to understand the culture and psychodynamics of meetings from a holistic point of view.
  40. 40. Section name Helvetica 9pt Break Out Session What stood out for you in the talk? What emotions do you experience when you think of meetings? How do rituals differ, if at all, when comparing face-to-face to online meetings?