I was sitting at book club last night and my friend Carla turned to me and exclaimed, “Write about laptops and devices!” What? I was puzzled.
“Write about bringing laptops into meetings and how disrespectful that is. People think they are multi-tasking and being productive, but they are really expecting the meeting to run on autopilot. They may be listening, but they are not contributing.”
I was thinking about the meeting I had facilitated earlier that day. Two participants had been using their phones under the table. Literally under the table. Did they think their colleagues didn’t notice? Did they think I didn’t notice? Did they realize that they aren’t super humans and their minds can’t be in two places at one time? AND, it was a wake-up call to me that my program had gone a bit astray and if I were completely on topic and relevant, this wouldn’t be happening. Immediate feedback!
And then I thought about Kristine at the same meeting. She told me she had been waiting for a call from her doctor, which she received during the very same meeting, and she left as soon as she received the call. Fortunately for her, she was able to receive the medical care she needed during the work day and return to work.
I also thought about my colleague Sharon Weinstein . She attends EVERY meeting with laptop in hand and she takes copious notes. She often shares her notes and they are incredible. Somehow, she is able to take notes AND contribute. Though I am not a neuroscientist, I am going to guess it is because the notes she is taking are about the meeting, not about another topic. What I do know is that Sharon is unusual. Unfortunately, most meeting participants are not using their devices to focus on the meeting. Most are using them to multitask, or to text and engage with their social network.
Interestingly, in technology companies, devices are banned at meetings. That’s right, the people who make the devices and the software that supports them know you can’t be two places at one time! In fact, those very same product developers and engineers frequently place their phones in the middle of the table during meals. The first person to reach for his or her phone pays for dinner. They know that you can’t have meaningful discussions and relationships while checking your phone.
If your organization suffers from “device creep,” and most do, I recommend considering the following options:
- Create a policy of device-free meetings in your organization.
- If you don’t have that policy, discuss as a group at the beginning of the meeting if the group will allow devices.
- Have one notetaker with an on-screen laptop and distribute those notes.
- Use notepads. For those who have forgotten, it’s paper with lines and you will need a pen or pencil.
- Place devices in the middle of the meeting space. The person who grabs his or her phone first is responsible for the task that no one at the meeting wants.
- Take breaks and allow time for people to check their devices and respond accordingly.
- Only hold extremely important meetings and keep them short. If the topic is relevant to everyone in attendance, the devices are less likely to surface.
If you are the meeting organizer, or in my case the instructor, and you see the phones come out, don’t be judgmental. You don’t know if the participants are taking pertinent notes, texting a message that the class is so interesting that they will be running late, or checking the stock market.
If you want to manage devices, manage them as a group, at the beginning of the meeting. And while we might be able to manage devices, the only way to manage attention is to be relevant.
How does your organization handle “device creep”?
Last year, I took an excellent course in group facilitation. Terrence Metz was the instructor for the program, and he taught our class the incredible phrase: “To What Extent.” Now, you may be reading this and thinking, “What’s the big deal?”
I am sharing the phrase because it is helpful when groups meet. Here is an example:
“This idea will cause outages!” the programmer shouts.
“To what extent?” asks his colleague.
“Well,” the programmer shifts in his shoes, ”It happens a lot.” The group decides to get data before they make changes.
“There will be huge budgetary discrepancies and we will become unable to operate,” says the chief financial officer.
“To what extent?” the board challenges.
And then the chief financial officer backs down.
“To what extent” is the phrase that pays because it helps team members focus on getting data rather than being reactive and possibly exaggerating consequences.
I encourage you to add the phrase to your information gathering repertoire.
How do you focus on gathering information?
Last fall my colleague Jennifer Ledet, leadership consultant, and I enrolled in a Facilitation Course which led to our certification as facilitators. In that high-level program we learned advanced facilitation techniques such as:
- how to gain consensus across time zones, cultures, and continents
- how to help teams manage multimillion-dollar projects and make high-level global decisions
- how to create buy-in and acceptance when many options are all reasonable and each person, division, and company has different needs and the stakes are high
This is graduate-level facilitation!
Before companies, organizations, and boards of all types can achieve graduate-level facilitation, they must master Civility 101. Before a facilitation session, I survey employees regarding their concerns and am always struck by the number of workplace issues that are matters of common courtesy.
Here are the absolute basics of facilitation, and of civility for that matter:
Don’t yell, scream, or pound your fist on tables. Don’t throw things or point your finger at anyone. Don’t slam the door when you leave the room or purposefully tip over chairs (if you are clumsy like me, well, then it’s okay).
Speak calmly and professionally at all times.
Don’t name call or label people as ignorant, lazy, fat, stupid, unmotivated, or even worse.
Refer to people with respect.
Don’t talk ill of people after the meeting.
Don’t tell or threaten anyone after the meeting (or at any time for that matter).
Don’t say, “You will be sorry,” or “This will hurt your career,” or “You better watch your back.”
Remember that what you say before and after the meeting is as important as what you say during the meeting.
Don’t allow meetings to be about how things went wrong.
Ask, “How can we prevent this from happening again?”
“What safeguards are in place for the future?”
“How important is it that this doesn’t occur again?”
“How can we support the person, department, or process to reach our objectives?”
If there are people in your organization who exhibit these behaviors, please forward this message to them. Then go to your HR department, your in-house lawyer, or your greatest sponsor and ask for training — lots of it! It is needed and the cost of not having a professional and productive workplace is huge, not to mention that your organization is exhibiting signs of harassment.
Is your organization more advanced? Great! You are ready for graduate school!