There is precisely one place where collective intelligence happens. Just one. Do you know where this is?
It’s where people meet. It is the – so often dreaded – Meeting. It is so apparent: People come together to share their views. By definition: A Meeting is the very embodiment of collective intelligence. Yet companies squander the chance to harness the collective intelligence of its people carelessly.
Meetings are right, square and center in the heart of every endeavor of companies. One would think, there would be a lot of tuning of meetings to get the best out of them. A lot of analysis, structure, and discipline to get the best out of meetings. Yet most people are unstructured:
- Most meetings run without an agenda
- If there is an agenda, it is often ignored
- The discussion itself is unstructured and free for all
- Seldom, there is disciplined facilitator keeping the discussion from not veering off into fringe topics
- Minutes of the Meetings are – if send at all and promptly – often ignored, except by the most structured kind of people
It that too dark a picture? I don’t think so. I have seen many organizations and most meetings were that badly unstructured. Even on board level, where Agendas and Minutes are the norms, the meetings themselves where often unstructured, agenda and Minutes of former Meetings basically ignored.
To explore typical meeting types and their impact on collective intelligence let us go through 5 types of meetings where issues are discussed, and actions are taken. I am not talking here about an educational meeting, that is a separate topic (albeit somewhat related).
A. The Unstructured Meeting – aka: Let the Extroverted Courtier win!
The unstructured meeting is terrible in so many ways. People seem to be there at just the hunch of a direction spelled out in the meeting title, the discussions veer off topic, Minutes are not kept, etc. But the real killer is: People may be invited to join the meeting, but they are not enticed to engage.
It is not only that people fail to prepare for meetings. Worse even if they could contribute ad hoc, just the extroverted ones will. Unstructured Meetings are usually dominated by the Highest Paid Person In the ROom (Hippo) and his extroverted henchmen, who try to please her or him.
B. The Structured Meeting – is so often a formalized recipe for boredom
A Structured Meeting is way better: There is an Agenda, a presentation of the issue to be discussed before the discussion, a systematic capturing of actions items and responsibility written down in a protocol.
But these kinds of Meetings are often a drag. They are formal and rational, which is fine. Yet they fail to invite people to engage emotionally. Noone is ever asked to contribute and to engage. You can get through these meetings without ever saying a word. Again, the pleasing henchman and the HIPPO dominate the meeting. People may contribute, but they will anticipate the way of least resistance, especially if only marginally impacted at all.
The structured, formalized meeting usually is a real drag. Its rational, but it is often boring.
C. The Modern Meeting: Asking for Feedback to get Thoughts going
The modern meeting is often facilitated. As skilled internal facilitators are usually rare inside organizations, consultants often drive those kinds of meetings. It is even more scripted than the structured meeting. Therefore facilitation is of the essence.
First, people are invited to say what is on their mind, a round robin where everyone, in turn, shares what is on his or her mind. The agenda is adopted, or agenda points are added. This “Check-In” into meetings is more important than just updating the agenda. It allows people to focus their mental energy on the meeting and gives them a point to share feelings right at the start of the meeting.
Giving each participant a voice at the beginning of the meetings allows people to connect with each other – an investment into the Meeting that will be repaid with a higher engagement level of each participant. All participants are able to gauge the emotional stance of others and cater to this in their interactions with each other.
Meetings are not existing in a vacuum. They are set in the context that each individual participant is at the particular point of time the meeting starts. An opening question like “Whats on your mind” during the check-in to each participant is easy to do and effective.
Such is the check-out, where people are again asked individually to share their feedback, their benefits, and concerns regarding the results of the meeting. There are multiple forms of this feedback possible, from just asking for one point of benefits and one main concern to writing post it and putting them on a Whiteboard or “Happiness door.”
D. The Connecting Meeting: Where passivity is not an option
Asking for feedback in Meetings during Check-in and Check-outs is not good enough to fully engage people. After all, it is the central part of the meeting, where some people engage, and most people stay disengaged. But, to harness collective intelligence, a company absolutely needs the engagement of everyone involved:
What the point of having all those experts, with all those diverse observations backgrounds if only a few actually engage and dominate the solution?
In a connecting meeting, people are drawn out of their habitual passivity. For this the connected Meeting follows an even more formal script than the previous meetings:
- The agenda is not pre-determined. It is built right at the start of the meeting, after the check-in. Thereby, people are able to influence the purpose of the meeting in line with their actually needs – not just the need of the one person who wrote the agenda or had the time and discipline to add agenda items. One of the beauties of building the agenda after the check-in is that people’s actual needs and feelings, thereby giving a place to compassion and caring. Feelings come into play from the start.
- After check-in and the presentation of the issue, people contribute their observations on the issue, one after the other. Passivity is not an option – everyone needs to speak up
- Only after everyone has contributed, the facilitator starts the discussion. The discussion itself should be time-boxed. The initiator of an agenda item then has the opportunity to wrap-up or amend the proposal. Everyone’s opinion on the amended motion should be gathered during another round-robin.
- After that, the proposal is decided upon by whatever decision mechanism is in place: Hierarchy, Consensus, Voting, etc. For an overview of decisions, mechanisms check out this post: Delegation on Steroids
What the connecting meeting achieves is to engage the left and right side of the brain more:
- More of the left side, rational thinking is applied by everyone contributing
- More imaginative, feeling left side thinking is coming into play, as better connect to one another and feel valued
The script for the connected meeting is a core element of Holacracy (see Holacracy, Liberation and Management 3.0), but it works outside the Holacracy context, i.e., in an ordinary hierarchical company too. The difference is that with hierarchical power still in play people will be defensive with their contributions and with sharing their feelings, as the HIPPO needs to be pleased in this or that manner.
E. The Challenging Meeting: Where Feedback is intense and in real time
Bridgewater is a Hedge Fund that made more money than any other Hedgefund ever in existence. As said in the previous post (The World’s Leading Hedgefund is Relying on Key Principles of Self-Managed Organizations), it can’t get any more capitalistic than that.
Under Bridgewaters Founder and CEO Ray Dalio, they basically digitalized the feedback process: Feedback is given via an application (the “Dot-Collector” in real-time, during the meeting and everyone’s rates. Then Everyone rates the issue and personal contributions to the meeting qualitatively and quantitatively. In this example, the lady and the guy in the rows assess their CEO’s performance in the meeting
It takes quite some guts to give such a negative feedback to your almighty CEO. An excellent structured Meeting is one thing, a culture of radical transparency and truth is quite another. Don’t expect that this can work in a conventional hierarchy, without a more profound and sustained drive towards liberating your company.
Already during the meeting, everyone can see on a screen how his contribution to the meeting is ranked.
The beauty of this system is that it draws out people. It forces them to contribute – even those introverts. People over-“contributing,” in other word spending too much time talking, do get the feedback immediately and can adjust their behavior.
The rankings of the discussed alternatives can be voted upon on via the app. The vote can be binding or just have informational character, and the real choice is to be made by an individual decision maker. Multiple decision rules can be applied, as needed and agreed on before the meeting.
Ray Dalio prefers a decision rule called “Believability weighted decision making.” Within this model, not everyone’s vote has the same impact. The most weight is given to those persons with the best track record, the most demonstrated experience in the matter discussed. Weights have to be assigned at the start of the meeting.
Over time, a lot of data on the contribution of each individual over any number of meetings is captured. This might just be the best 360 Degree Feedback there is, as everyone rates everyone at any time during meetings. This way, behaviors good and bad can be spotted and be improved. People are able to use this data to develop themselves and others, and therefore organizations develop to higher levels of consciousness.
Conclusion: We just started exploring collective Intelligence
What do you think of the Challenging Meeting that Bridgewater has pioneered? A nightmare of transparency. The death of all introverts? An overstructured Utopia?
But one thing is clear: We absolutely need a better way to maximize the collective intelligence of people. Not just of overpaid and elitist hedge fund managers, but of all people, may that be room cleaning teams, nurses, workers in a distribution center or rubbish collectors. Using everyone’s knowledge, observations and intellectual capacities in a group will deliver
- better results,
- more accountability,
- and more engagement.
It will beat the thoughts of a responsible manager who thinks he has figured out the “one best way” every time.
Connecting and Challenging meetings do provide feedback that penetrates beyond behaviors and into assumptions and mindsets.
It will let people connect to each other, connect to their work, connect to the organization. It will bridge the divide so many feel between making sense of their lives and the need to work for money.
This is what I think. What do you think?
- Dalio, Ray “Principles – Life and Work,” 2017
- Robertson, Brian “Holacracy,” 2016
- Dalio. Ray, TED Speech, 2017