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The rarest commodity

ScheduleIt’s amazing what you pick up without realising it.

I worked in big, blue-chip business for over a decade before stepping out into the wider world. It was only then I realised I’d absorbed a wealth of management and organisational skills without even noticing. Skills like objective setting, performance management, and running efficient meetings; skills so useful they were highly valued and rapidly copied wherever I went.

So useful that it took me a very long time to realise the problems they can create.

The first time I facilitated a Board Away Day I was nervous. And because I was nervous, I took control. I planned the agenda like a military operation, with pithy presentations, tightly timed exercises and a running order scheduled to within an inch of its life. We got all the decisions that we needed, but the feedback was mixed: apparently there “wasn’t enough conversation”, and worse, over the next six months around a third of those decisions got unpicked.

It was a similar story a few months later, when I ran my first breakfast seminar with around a dozen CEOs. Nervous, I crafted 90 minutes of content for a two hour session, trusting there would be enough questions and conversation to fill out the remaining half hour. With five minutes left, and having interjected less than a quarter of my material into what the one of guests later described as “seriously, the most enjoyable networking breakfast that I have ever been to”, the penny finally dropped. Sometimes less is more.

Sometimes structure and content just gets in the way, especially when what we really need is time. Time to think; time to reflect; time to just kick around possibilities and ideas. But time is the rarest commodity most of us have because one of the most pervasive habits we’ve all unwittingly picked up over recent years, is the tendency towards a relentless busyness; of diaries filled with back-to-back-meetings; of evenings filled with scheduled engagements and children’s activities.

When was the last time you and your team simply spent time together, enjoying the conversation? When was the last time you took an hour out of your working day, purely for reflection?

I was recently asked by a CEO client to observe her team meetings, to help her understand why some of the team were struggling to get on board with the direction she was taking the business. I have to say, they were really well run meetings, and the team was one of the most organised and capable I’ve met. But she was right – most of them, for various reasons, weren’t entirely onboard with her vision. My advice was to drop the agenda for the next two meetings, and simply to talk about the direction. Without structure, without rules, and without restriction. I wasn’t there to observe, but she called me last week.

Apparently they were two of the most productive meetings the team has ever had.

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