The penny just dropped. Along with the centime, centesimo, λεπτό and cêntimo.
Like many citizens, I have been watching the Brexit negotiations unwind with increasing unease and yet feeling powerless to do anything about it. Today, thanks to a nudge from a cycle buddy (thanks, Simon!), a lightbulb just went off in my head.
Don’t know why I didn’t see it before. I spend my life helping private and public organisations have impactful, successful, creative and, yes, enjoyable meetings. I even wrote one of the more popular books on the subject. Will There Be Donuts?* was even a Times Top Ten Summer Read. Who knew people would take a book about meetings to the beach with them?
So it’s been staring me in the face. While all the focus is on WHAT the Brexit negotiators are trying (and apparently failing) to do is anyone concentrating on HOW their meetings are designed, staged and animated? If I have learned one thing working with big businesses over the last 20 years it is how you meet radically shapes the outcome. And judging from what we’ve been seeing over the last 18 months, the ‘how’ of these meetings needs urgent attention.
I have no more idea than you about what is going on behind those closed doors but my hunch is that one or more of the following pathologies is killing these meetings:
They’re Nearly meeting…
…instead of Really meeting. The bodies are present, suited and on time. There’s an agenda and biscuits. But the real conversations are not happening, people are not truly connecting, the important work is not getting done, time is being wasted.
A huge amount of heat is generated when people fundamentally agree about the destination – in this case a resolution both sides can at least live with – but disagree about the route to arrive there. For instance, if you step back and look at the British position Leaver and Remainers fundamentally agree. Both opposing ‘sides’ will tell you they want the best for the country. And that productive relationships with the rest of the world, including European countries, are key. It’s just that one camp see trade with Europe as a Must Have and the others as a Nice to Have. And this, in some ways quite subtle, difference is generating seismic, country-wrecking energy.
A or B? thinking
Stalled negotiations can often be unstuck by releasing the conversation from binary A or B thinking. Very often the answer is A then B or B through A or, indeed, C, D, E or F. In our case, perhaps the answer is neither Leave not Remain but Evolve. (By the way, if you want some inspiration on how to break the A or B? political ping-pong match, take a look at George Monbiot’s latest book Out of the Wreckage. It’s a corker!)
Chairing not Leading
I bet the meetings are being Chaired but not Led. There’s a world of difference. Chairing is like driving a commuter train; proceeding along an agreed route arriving at predetermined destinations on time. Leading real meetings is more like rally-driving, dealing with the unexpected switchbacks and unplanned rough terrain the second it appears. True meeting leadership sees derailment as a preface to potential breakthrough.
Assembly not Design
Most meetings are simply assembled from a list of To Do’s. The word Agenda, remember, simply means ‘that which needs to be done. Success needs to be designed into meetings. Design is the difference between, say, a workhorse Trabant and a race-winning Ferrari. It’s also the difference between nearly and really meeting. Perhaps it’s my background in the performing arts, but I think you need to approach significant meetings like this as experiences that are carefully designed for resolution. Not for endless discussion, argument or, worse, posturing.
Lack of Animation
I’m not a fan of the word facilitation (from facile=easy) which suggests people like me are there to make things go smoothly. What’s so great about smooth? Sometimes you need to embrace the turbulence, unleash a controlled explosion, lead a flock of elephants into the room, speak truth to power. I prefer animate (keeping things alive/moving/soulful) or orchestrate (getting discordant voices into some of harmony).
So I’d like to make an offer.
It occurs to me that the unhealthy outcome of the Brexit negotiations could be improved with a bit of professional attention from a ‘meeting doctor’ like me. So if you, or anyone you know around Europe, is involved in these crucial meetings in any way can you let them know I’m on stand by.
It’s a time-limited offer. This particular patient is looking in need of urgent, intensive care. Give me a call before the next set of talks and, provided I am not somewhere else in the world, helping people really rather than nearly meet, I’ll be there. With a squad of multi-lingual meeting medics if needed.
And I’ll bring the doughnuts.
Along with the croissants, the danish pastries, the berliners, fritelli, ponichki, fánk, spurgos, oliebollen, gogośi, munk, smoutebollen, krapfen,triesce, svingi, vdolky, sõõriki, munkki, loukomades, virtulis, spurgos, beignets, buns, paczki, filhós, ceregi, krofi and churros.
*Free, signed copy of my meeting book to anyone that is even tangentially involved in this tangled ball of Brexit string.