Why Meetings are Like Dinner Parties

Imagine being invited to someone’s home for a dinner party.  You walk in the door and their house is in disarray, the table isn’t set, there is no music, no ambience, overhead fluorescent lights are on.  Then imagine a few other people show up and you aren’t really sure who they are and the host doesn’t introduce you to them.  The host offers no beverage and there are no appetizers or hors d’oeuvers.  The host then says, “What should we do for dinner? I didn’t have time to think about it…” You may be saying, “yeah, and your point is?”

My point is, how often do you show up for a meeting and its like showing up at THAT dinner party?  There is no agenda, it’s not clear who has been invited to the meeting and why. The room where the meeting is being held is not conducive in the least to productivity or meaningful conversation (think dark, no natural light, boxes piled on top of each other) and the meeting owner is clearly unprepared, etc.

Oh, and you have 18 other things you need to be doing instead of showing up to the circus (um, the “meeting”).

Showing up to THAT meeting and THAT dinner party share some similar characteristics.  For example:

  • No agenda.  The host or meeting owner clearly didn’t value your time enough to plan ahead.  They took for granted you would show up and be gracious enough to take what they had to offer (which was abysmal).
  • Lazy logistics.  The host or meeting owner didn’t put any forethought into what might be needed to ensure a good experience, like food or the right space or the overall environment.
  • No care.  The host or meeting owner didn’t care enough to put any energy into making you feel that you mattered, that your time was valuable, or to introduce you to other guests, etc.

To put a finer point on this here is an unexpected example from recent client work that I want to share.

This will sound silly (I think).  We designed and facilitated a three-day workshop for 150 people.  The design included three different breakout sessions with 10 separate groups.  In setting up for the breakouts, we had planned for each of the 10 groups to have all the materials they needed, specific instructions (in hard copy) at each table, copies of the exercises the groups would use, flip charts, markers, etc.  As part of setting up each breakout group area we pre-populated flip chart paper and hung it on the wall for groups to use.  As we set up each area, I noticed some of the flip chart paper was hung either too high or too low or in some cases was crooked.  Did it matter in a material sense?  Nope.  Were we all exhausted and ready to go home (it was already pushing midnight)?  Yep.  Would it have been a no-brainer to leave the flip chart paper hung a bit too high and at an angle?  Yep.  Did we leave that paper hung too high and at an angle?  Nope.

I thought the team would hate me for wanting to make sure the paper was hung straight.  Paper hung straight implicitly communicated to the workshop participants that we cared enough to hang the paper straight, that we cared enough to go the extra mile to let them know we valued their time and that their contributions mattered.  We wanted them to be solely focused on the task at hand and not distracted by the crooked paper.

It’s like a dinner party…showing up and the host has put great forethought into who would be there, what was for dinner, what would be served with dinner, what music was appropriate for the guests and the occasion, what lighting would be conducive to the type of party the host wanted to have, etc.

The truly easy thing to do is NOT care about the small things, the details…honestly, most of the time people won’t even notice.  AND, what people will notice, in a big way, is when you do go the extra mile.  It’s increasingly rare these days and while it’s often hard to put our finger on specifically, it’s no denying the sense or feeling we experience when someone has cared enough to handle the details and let us know that we matter.