Last week I had the honor to be present at a workshop featuring Henry Mintzberg, organized by the Academy for Information & Management. The session started with an illustration of reflective learning. The 30 participants were divided over 6 tables. Three questions were asked: 1. Why are you here? 2. What do you want to learn? and 3. Why is this important for you? First seven minutes of individual reflection, then 20 minutes in which each of the people at the table could present their answers. All except one, the ‘listener’ or ‘eavesdropper’. The listener (what is in a name) could only listen. After the presentations at the different tables, the 6 listeners sat in a circle in the middle of the room, and reflected on what they heard and learned for 15 minutes or so. Total length of the session: some 45 minutes. Three simple questions, and interesting and stimulating dialogues (it turned out that for most people the answer to question 1 was: Mintzberg).
A simple meeting format, and not new for me. We use this format and other formats in most of our in-house leadership development programs. Dreaming away while Mintzberg and the other faculty presented the unique features of their management development program, I was thinking about the next question: the transfer of what is learned in leadership- and management development programs to daily work. Most meetings I am in (it might be totally different elsewhere) have a similar format. The main ingredients: an agenda, a beamer, a laptop with various PowerPoint presentations, a table with chairs, and 6-10 people who these days bring iPad, iPhone and/ or laptop to do some work in between. The agenda is somewhat too full, but by saving on breaks and by making the meeting a bit longer we most of the times manage to deal with the agenda. Generally there is no time for reflection, as everybody wants to go home or has to rush to a next meeting. In off-sites there is more room for experimentation with different formats (favorite format there: discussion in small groups, and then plenary reports from the sub-groups). Why do we not use more creative formats in our regular meetings? We know formats as presented by the Mintzberg team, but when it comes to daily meetings they are hardly used. I asked the questions to a colleague from another company, and she had the same experience. When she proposed brainstorming with yellow Post-Its in one of her meetings, it was waived away as being too childish. The second question that came to my mind was a little confronting. Why am I sitting in these meetings, sometimes visibly annoyed, without intervening and proposing to try something different? Clearly this is a good learning point for me, and now on my list of to-dos. Thanks to an afternoon with Mintzberg.