Thursday, 16 October 2008

Eat sorbet before your meetings

It is not often that I go to a meeting and experience a technique for running the meeting that I have never come across before. I did yesterday meeting.

A group of us met to discuss some issues related to a large charitable project that I am involved in. There are many stakeholders with multiple agendas. Big money and big reputations at stake and strong, divergent views being expressed in the run up to the meeting. So it had the potential to be a fractious meeting and a lot depended on how it got started.

The Chairman kicked off with an unusual statement, as we rolled up our sleeves, put on our boxing gloves and stuck out our jaws, ready for action. "We are going to start with something that I learnt from Dr Anthony Seldon, the Headmaster of Wellington College" he said. "We will start the meeting with one minutes silence". And sure enough, to everyones astonishment he looked down and fell silent.

Well, everyone fell silent for what seemed like ages. The tension flowed out of the room. People pushed back their chairs. Some doodled. Some reflected quietly. Some looked bemused, even uncomfortable. But at the end of what seemed like several hours, the Chairman looked up and, without further explanation, quietly said "right, back to the agenda".

The meeting flowed smoothly. Issues were raised in measured tones, explored and discussed. Ways forward were found. I can't put it all down to the minutes silence but I can say that there was a definite calm about the room as the meeting started and that seemed to set the tone and create the space for a good dialogue.

Fascinating. Afterwards, someone described the experience as akin to bowing heads and saying a prayer before a Church meeting or eating sorbet to clense the pallet between courses over dinner. But I have never seen it done like this in a heavyweight, high stakes, business meeting before.

Try it !


Andy Gueritz said...

As any fan of Cesar Millan (the "Dog Whisperer") will tell you, the Chairman was putting the people in the room in a "calm submissive" state whilst asserting his own pack leadership (

I suppose, if you don't want to be treated like a dog, then the alternative might be to shove the Chairman aside, and start scribbling furiously whilst shouting "I am not a number"

Lindsay Willott said...

Tom, interesting approach - I'll give it a try. At our management team meetings we often "WIFLE" before kicking off the formal agenda.

WIFLE stands for "what I feel like expressing" and everyone gets a couple of meetings to get whatever's on their mind out onto the table. It ensures you know how people are feeling before the meeting and really helps the sense of teamwork.

Vijay Shah said...

Fantastic - I can think of numerous occasions where that approach would have come in handy.

You must be familiar also with the 'talking stick' approach - I first learnt about it at Steven Covey's '7 habits' leadership course.