Meetings don’t have to be a practical alternative to work


Whether you like it or not, meetings are often how things get done in work and in schools. In The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups (2013), Garmston and Wellman describe how the professional communication that occurs when teacher meet can happen both during informal settings, like meeting quickly in the hall with a team mate, or during formal settings, like a team meeting or even a one-on-one meeting with your mentee. Meetings are vitally important to the work we do in our schools, AND sometimes they are completely worthless.

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There is very little need to describe the bad meetings we all have endured. Because bad meetings are almost a rite of passage in some schools, we can simply use our bad meetings as a measurement of what not to do. The other side of that coin is the positive feeling we have felt when leaving a productive and positive meeting. That is a feeling certainly worth replicating, so the remainder of this blog will outline some keys to conduct successful meetings based on Garmston and Wellman’s The Adaptive School book.

Some of the negative feelings about meetings come from the lack of understanding how we need to collaborate. Do you know how sometimes in a meeting: it seems people just talk to hear themselves; or maybe the talk grows into a personal conflict. Sometimes the conversation in a meeting “squirrels” to items that are not important or even how the real meeting doesn’t begin until afterwards in the parking lot when the decisions are really made? Talking to make decisions takes some structure and guidance to become productive. Three organizing principles guide productive meetings according to Garmston and Wellman: Collaborative Norms, Positive Relationships, and Collective Energy Sources. These principles make up Day 3 in the Adaptive Schools training and can serve as a refresher to anyone who has been able to attend that training.

Collaborative Norms – The success of a meeting is based more on the norms a group uses to collaborate than the individual skills of the meeting facilitator according to Garmston and Wellman (2013). If you think about that statement, it makes sense. We have all felt a meeting that was hijacked by someone other than the leader and by definition, there are more group members than facilitators. The seven Norms of Collaboration are:

  1. Pausing
  2. Paraphrasing
  3. Posing Questions
  4. Putting ideas on the table
  5. Providing data
  6. Paying attention to self and others
  7. Presuming positive intentions

The tech giant, Google, spent millions of dollars over five years to determine that the effectiveness of it’s best teams depended on the psychological safety created by adhering to group norms. Without a safe meeting environment, the brain is never able to clearly think and instead is posed in a fight, freeze, or flight threat state. Lori Collins, the Teacher Support Coordinator at DEEL, just wrote a blog entitled “S.C.A.R.F. – Wrapping our Brain Around Being Social” where she explored the idea of psychological safety in depth.

Positive Relationships – In order to collaborate effectively, teachers need to practice what it cost Google millions to figure out: norms empower adults to collaborate in a positive way.  Positive relationships doesn’t always mean that everyone agrees all the time on all items. That is, at best, group think or, at worst, a dictatorship. Instead, positive relationships are built to allow teachers to experience cognitive conflict and keep the discussion focused on the ideas rather than another person. The norms of collaboration are key to keeping the relationships positive among those we work with and when we are able to form positive working relationships we feel it and know it by the work that is produced.

energy-sources

Collective Energy Sources – When groups use the norms of collaboration to form positive relationships, it creates a positive work culture that is developed by paying attention to five Energy Sources:

  1. Efficacy
  2. Flexibility
  3. Interdependence
  4. Consciousness
  5. Craftsmanship

These five Energy Sources are familiar to anyone who has taken Cognitive Coaching as the five States of Mind held by individuals. The energy of a group in a meeting is important, especially since many teacher meetings are held in the afternoon, when teachers are exhausted. Being familiar with and being able to listen for the Energy Sources allows the meeting facilitator to identify if teachers don’t feel confident in their ability to impact a decision and therefore, Efficacy needs to be addressed, or maybe if the new online tools are unfamiliar, the group members need to focus on their Craftsmanship to figure out and be prepared for some of the details that sometimes falls through the cracks.  No matter what the meeting is about, the collective energy sources will help the participants in the meeting leave feeling productive and ready to follow through.

In a future post, I will continue to share four successful structures that individuals can use to help frame successful meetings. These structures promote clarity and openness and help individuals meet as a collective whole.

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