Think Leadership Ideas

Make Meetings Matter

What’s your rule for meetings?

At a retreat aimed at building relationships across research groups, the scientists got right to work. And work they did, creating action steps by the dozens. They were relentless. Everyone acknowledged it was far too many items to actually do and felt frustrated because of it. The group had made a rule for themselves: never meet without developing an action plan. They clearly had good intentions, but perhaps were overcompensating for too many meetings that never led to action.

Here’s a better rule: never have a meeting without a PURPOSE!

Action is one of the main reasons for bringing people together in meetings, but it’s not the only one. Bringing people together for what I call alignment or attunement are also worthwhile endeavors. If you are going to the expense, time, and trouble to bring people together, the meeting should focus on at least one of these three purposes – alignment, attunement, and action.

Alignment is using the group to cultivate thinking – to stimulate creative ideas, analyze and assess options, come to a common understanding, and get people heading in the same direction. Alignment is cultivated by discussion that uncovers and brings assumptions to the surface. Ultimately, alignment leads to the group sharing a common mental map and building a strategy of how to best understand and travel the landscape. Alignment includes group processes like brainstorming to bring out divergent ideas, sharing of information through quick check-ins and round table reports, and active analysis, synthesis, and summarization through dialogue.

Attunement is cultivating an emotional connection to what people care about. It includes discussion that clarifies and recognizes what is commonly valued, acknowledgment of what is going right, and celebration of wins. By connecting people to shared passions, attunement increases morale and motivation. By connecting people to important values, attunement guides people to wiser decisions.

Creating the right emotional environment is what attunement is all about, and its importance is often underestimated. Emotions give energy and focus to a group of people. Attunement sparks innovation. Attunement is most powerfully cultivated in a group setting, and the energy it builds can be reason enough to hold a meeting.

Action in meetings means coming to decisions, creating and documenting plans, and making commitments to implement what has been decided. Ultimately, action must be taken to get things done and to achieve goals. As noted in the opening example, too little attention to action is a chronic problem for some groups, however, action without strong alignment and attunement can scatter efforts.

I believe discussion, not reporting, is the principle tool that creates value in meetings. Discussion about facts, ideas, and perceptions cultivates alignment. Discussion that identifies common values, expresses personal meaning of work, and projects a desired emotional tone (especially by leaders) cultivates attunement. When your group has established common direction and has connected emotionally – alignment and attunement - your group has a sound basis for action.

by Tom Stevens (c)2004
Tom Stevens helps individuals and organizations create brilliant futures and make a difference. To contact him, visit

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