Are Meetings Keystone Habits?

When we think of habits we often think of bad habits, when in fact habits are efficient patterns of behavior. Habits allow us to make routine decisions without having to rethink them every time. How often do you drive to work and wonder how you got there?

In The Power of Habit, CharlesDuhigg identifies what he calls keystone habits: habits so powerful that if you change them, it influences habits throughout the organization.  Duhigg writes that when Paul O’Neill became Alcoa’s CEO, he decided his number-one priority was to change safety habits throughout the organization. He modeled this when he began his first speech as CEO by informing people where the exit doors were and what they should do in case of an emergency. To everyone’s surprise, he never once talked about his profitability or productivity goals. Throughout his presidency he focused on changing safety habits because he believed they were the keystone to productivity improvement. In doing so, he changed Alcoa into both a profit machine and a safety exemplar.

Meetings are keystone habits that have the power to change your organization’s culture. Meetings give you a snapshot in time of how:

  • Decisions are made
  • Power and authority are used
  • Information flows

Changing the way decisions are made, how power and authority are used, and the flow of information in meetings will have an impact that reaches far beyond the meeting itself. Changing the way you meet is the most overlooked, fast-track way to change your organization’s culture.

Think about your own organization. What would happen if you improved the decision-making process in your meetings? What might happen if you changed the way people relate to each other in meetings? How would your organization be different if information flowed freely in your organization? What would happen in your meeting if everyone’s voice counted?

When meetings become habits you don’t give them the attention they deserve. And like many “bad” habits, many of us would sooner live with the bad habit, than think about changing it.

When your meetings are time-wasting, energy-sapping affairs, the aftermath of these meetings can have negative consequences that last long after the meeting itself has ended. By the same token when your meetings are truly productive, this energy ripples throughout your organization and has a long-lasting positive effect.

The nice thing about meetings is that they are under your control. You can decide if you are going to be an effective meeting leader. You can decide if you are going to be an effective meeting participant. You can decide if you are going to be a meeting bystander. The decision you make about how you show up in the meetings you attend is up to you. You and only you can decide if you are going to sit on the sidelines and watch the meeting go downhill, or whether you will work toward the meeting’s success.

If you are a meeting leader, here are five things you can do that will begin to change the culture of your meetings:

  • Treat all meeting participants as if they were volunteers.
  • Make sure everyone present understands the decision processes that will be used throughout the meeting.
  • Work to make everyone feel welcome.
  • Set aside the last 15 minutes of your meeting to review decisions reached, identify next steps, and identify how to improve your next meeting.
  • When people in the meeting are in conflict, help them resolve the conflict instead of watching them fight it out

If you are a meeting participant, here are five things you can do to change the culture of your meetings:

  • Come prepared to contribute to the meeting’s effectiveness.
  • Paraphrase others’ comments before making comments yourself.
  • When people in the meeting are in conflict, help them resolve the conflict instead of watching them fight it out.
  • Ask the opinions of people who are silent.
  • Instead of getting mad when a meeting is not productive, ask yourself, “What can I do right now to improve this meeting?”
Posted in Meeting Strategies and tagged , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply