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Tagged ‘meetings‘

Ham Up!

Ask not what you can do for your country. 

Ask what’s for lunch

 — Orson Welles

If you are an up and comer, a bright little nova about to burst in the sky, one of next year’s Forty Under Forty, then you’re making a big mistake if you work through lunch.  Oh, I hear you.  You have tons of work to do.  You like working through lunch because everyone else in the office is gone and it’s really nice and quiet.  You don’t want a reputation for taking long lunch hours.

Yes, I hear you, but you’ve got this one wrong. 

When I worked for Milwaukee County as their first Grants Coordinator, I’d just come from an agency where lunch was an art form.  However, in the County Courthouse, lunch meant going down the elevator to the Homicide: Life on the Streets cafeteria, eating a tuna sandwich and hotfooting upstairs before your minutes were up.  So when I headed for the elevator and got off on the 1st Floor to walk outside into the sunshine and the vast array of eateries around 9th and Wells, people piped up real quick, “Where are you going?”

Well, I’m going to lunch.  Why was I going to lunch?

Because I needed to make connections in order to get some big grants going and the place that connections could get made was LUNCH.

Yes, I could have had meetings with the same people.  But a meeting isn’t like lunch.  A meeting is about the agenda, getting things done, leaving with assignments, and feeling super efficient.  Lunch is about having a relationship with someone that is bigger than a single project, a connection that is more enduring, more intimate, and more fruitful over the long term. It’s talking about your kids, it’s knowing that someone actually has kids, it’s sharing information about new developments, it’s cracking a joke and having a decent laugh, it’s building a business friendship for the long haul.  Valuable stuff.

Like many of you, I tend to work through lunch (and I actually had a tuna sandwich today) but I know about the value of lunch and intend to recommit myself to this essential business practice.  So – get on the phone and make a date for lunch!  And I’ll do the same.

And, oh, kudos to the County’s old dungeon of a cafeteria – because it used to open at 5:00 a.m. which let folks like me who’d spent their working hours at lunch come in early to get their work done.

 

 


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Effective Meetings: No News is Good News

Nothing irks me more than a meeting where the agenda consists of one or two people giving reports while everyone else snaps their gum and fiddles with their Blackberries. These meetings remind me of the townfolk gathering outside the telegraph office to hear Old Ben in his suspenders read a message from the next town over.  Really — is this the purpose of bringing great minds together?  To sit and listen to someone ‘read the news’ that could have easily been disseminated via email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a bunch of other new social media that I don’t even know the names of yet?

Me, personally?  I think it’s a bad use of time and talent.  Meetings without a problem-solving purpose are a waste of time. Those with such a purpose can be extraordinarily fun, collegial, and productive. 

An Alternative

A few months ago, the Milwaukee Continuum of Care established a special work group to develop a Coordinated Entry system for the homeless services system, including shelters, transitional housing, and homeless prevention services.  Recognizing that work groups can quickly devolve into three people with no better alternative than to show up, the chair (Tim Baack) and I patched together a strategy that has really worked.  Here are some of the elements:

1.  Homework.

Work group members were asked to interview people in other cities about their coordinated entry (central intake) systems.  Someone interviewed the central intake program in Dayton, someone else called Kalamazoo, and so on.  Results were shared with the group in oral and written form.  This dispersed the responsibility for information-gathering and synthesis to the whole group. 

2.  Visioning

A visioning process is really about having everyone say what’s on their mind.  We did this early to try to surface some of the misgivings and apprehensions that shelter operators and others might have about a coordinated entry process.  When their concerns were recognized as legitimate by others, they became problems to solve rather than little land mines that would blow us up later.

3.  Decision List

We came up with a list of questions that had to be answered in order to establish Coordinated Entry.  Every work group member was asked to submit his/her answers to the chair so they could be recorded on a decision spreadsheet.  At each meeting, we tackle 2 or 3 questions, not closing the discussion until there is genuine agreement on the answer.  When a question is answered, we go on to the next, with no circling back (well, so far).  Having the decision list puts the end in sight – essentially when we answer the last question we will have designed the Coordinated Entry system.

4.  Cookies

The work group chair, Tim Baack of Pathfinders, sets the tone for the meeting with his preparation and his presence.  He is there to greet people as they arrive.  He has a fresh pot of coffee and a platter of cookies.  Agendas and meeting materials are at everyone’s place.  He is glad to see everyone and they feel welcome.  He guides the discussion but doesn’t rush it.  People are heard.  That’s huge.

When Coordinated Entry gets established, it will have a lot of fingerprints on it (and a few cookie crumbs). People will look back at the hard work they did and remember it as being challenging and energizing.  They’ll still go to the big meetings and listen to Old Ben read the latest telegram but they’ll be looking around the room for a problem to solve and some fun to have.


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Show of Force

If you’ve got a lot of fire power, it’s hard to resist the urge to show it off.  Hence, the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds and the whole concept of Shock and Awe which I’m kind of ashamed to admit I’ve used in various efforts to try to beat out competition for one thing or another.

But like every other tool, you have to be strategic about when you use it.  As an evaluator, I frequently meet with programs to review progress.  Usually, I meet with the agency director and the program coordinator.  But sometimes, I walk in and there’s a sea of people – from administrators to line staff to the receptionist.  Then I think to myself, why do they think they need all these people here?  I thought about putting a limit on the number of people at an evaluation visit but then, I thought, doesn’t a program’s decision about who needs to be there telling me something important?

Lobbying elected officials or meeting with bureaucratic higher-ups is another area where people often miscalculate the appropriate show of force.  Do you want a roomful of supporters if you’re trying to get a touchy piece of legislation passed?  Of course.  Standing room only.  But do you want a crowd when you’re meeting with an individual elected official about a delicate policy issue?  Different matter.  If each person in your delegation represents an essential and unique expertise, it’s probably ok to bring them along.  But if they are just taking up space or helping you feel more confident or important (it is nice to have an entourage), think again. 

When policymakers see a gaggle of people heading for their office, they put on their public face.  Not their ‘let’s get to know each other’ face or ‘let’s work out this problem’ face.  They glad hand, listen politely and move on.  And then they wonder why you needed a small army to talk to them. 

Advice?  Think about who will add essential value to a meeting; who will make the outcome better.  Make sure you’ve determined who is going to play what role.  Think Blue Angels.  Each one of them knows the plan and sticks with the program.  That, and the fact that they’re maneuvering those amazing planes within inches of each other, makes for a very impressive show of force.

Jan Wilberg Janice Wilberg


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