A different kind of meeting
  • As a facilitator, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years experimenting with how to create organizational gatherings that feel especially vibrant and meaningful. Although I love this work, it has been feeling a bit stale to me lately, and I’ve had a hard time understanding why.

    This morning, I had something of an ‘aha.’ I realized that I’ve been feeling less and less drawn to facilitating special meetings – strategic visioning, evaluation, organizational change initiatives, etc. – and more called to explore meeting as a daily practice.

    How can we manifest the energy, meaning, and connection that so often come from a well designed and orchestrated retreat in the more clunky and mundane meetings we move in and out of on a daily basis – from formal staff and project meetings to the informal encounters we have as we work together?

    So many organizations treat meetings as a necessary evil, things to be reduced in frequency and length so that the real work can get done. It’s an odd way to think about something that really should be seen as a gift. A meeting should be a time when we can reconnect with each other and create together. Why do meetings so often feel like chores instead?

    At Kufunda, I’ve been noticing a lighter, more joyful quality to meetings. They are not drastically different in form. It has more to do with shared intention- that when we come together, good things will happen. We will understand more, we will create something new- something that none of us can create on our own, and that is exciting.

    People also seem to enter meetings with an unusually generous and exploratory spirit, knowing that their work will be easier or better because of the differences in opinion and perspective they will encounter: “I wonder how Allan is going to disturb my universe today?”

    And there is a lot more silence and listening to each other and to what surfaces when no one is speaking. Silence does have a sort of voice of its own and I think a lot of wisdom is passed by when we override it with chatter.

    There are reminder rituals, like using a bell to open and close meetings and passing a talking piece, but these are lightly held and not always followed. Just the other day, Rennie, having forgotten the bell, whacked a nearby metal grill with a big tree branch to close our weekly checkout meeting with the youth.

    What I like about the way that Kufunda uses these intentions and rituals is that they are not treated as sacred. Sometimes they are used, other times they are not. Sometimes they are almost lost, but are then brought back. If they were used all the time, they would probably lose their effectiveness because we would take them for granted. It is the meaning we give them that matters.

    November 8th, 2010 | Tana Paddock | 8 Comments

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8 Responses and Counting...

  • Alicia 11.08.2010

    Beautifully said Tana. A million miles away, on a different continent, in a busy city, I couldn’t be in a more different context than you being at Kunfunda and yet you could have been describing how I’ve been feeling in the meetings I am a part of these days.
    It is the “small” wonder of simply being in contact with one another with curious intent that allows the meaningfulness to rush into what can feel stale, lifeless and evaluative in the way we meet.

  • Hi Alicia! It’s re-affirming to me as well to know that you’re experiencing something similar. We just finished the Powers of Place gathering here, which inspired some more thoughts around meetings…I’ll share that soon. Sending warm hugs back across the world to you…

  • Beautiful. Beautiful. This gives me a warm feeling all over. I love what you say and how you say it. Reading this actually added to me this morning. We all need this perspective when it comes to meetings. I just love this very simple thought – “when we come together, good things will happen”. I love your thought on silence – “Silence does have a sort of voice of its own and I think a lot of wisdom is passed by when we override it with chatter.” I had written something a while ago entitled “Listen to the silence”, inspired by my wife Ronke, telling Tofunmi our daughter while we were driving through the countryside, “Tofunmi, let’s listen to the silence”. I could not agree more, silence speaks.

    A very good thought to read on a rainy day here in Montreal. I wish you more inspiration over there in Kufunda. Keep it coming.

  • Tana, we just finished a gathering around food sovereignty and sustainable food systems here in Oaxaca. It was something that has been inspiring fear and anxiety in me over the past few months … and the meetings we had to plan for the gathering were sometimes torture. But the big event came off just amazingly and I really think about how we could create the conditions for even smaller comings together of people to be rich and rewarding . . . instead of a burden. It has so much to do with the container we build in which the work gets done. At Kufunda, I always found that they are able to do this in a very playful, joyful and yet deeply felt way. It´s an interesting balance, no?

  • There are 2 kinds of ethics we use: rules-based and values-based. When you said your good meetings have, “more to do with shared intention- that when we come together, good things will happen. We will understand more, we will create something new- something that none of us can create on our own,” you articulated some rather powerful and affirmative and values-based working assumptions.

    It sounds like that’s the key. Dysfunctional workplaces struggle to come up with rules like, “turn off cell phones”.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Hi Tolu,

    Thanks for your note…could you share the link of your “listen to silence” piece? I’d love to read it.

  • That’s a great example, Aerin. I think the complexity and time sensitive nature of big gatherings like that make it even harder for us to remember. So happy to hear it went well. I’ve been hearing rave reviews about Oaxaca from the folks at the Roulant. Is that the event they participated in?

  • Hi John…I totally agree with you. And, in my experience, even when we focus on our collectively-held values, we too often get caught up in form (a way of speaking, a way of working together, a particular organizational structure that we feel reflects those values) rather than how we’re actually experiencing them on a daily basis.

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