Get Better Teamwork By Rearranging Your Meeting Agendas

“Without people, our hotels are just buildings!”

That was a quote from a dear friend, Lou Dubois who is director of content at Hilton Hotels. He is an amazing thought leader in the digital marketing space.

But my thought was, Wow! What a quote! That quote can be applied across any organization, especially given the volatility and disruption of every industry. Business today is like facing a hurricane, but one that is not going to subside regardless of the industry you are in.

In so many cases, people are the only solution to being swept away in the impending storm. If you are not putting as much focus on talent as you do your P&L, it is just a matter of time before you may have no “P”.

Rearrange your meeting agenda

I recently read an article about the late Bill Campbell, legendary executive coach whose stellar list of clients included Steve Jobs and with Google co-founder Larry Page. He coached the current CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, as well as CEOs of Twitter, Flipboard, eBay, and many other companies.

One of his practices is easy for any leader to adopt, and might dramatically improve a team’s rapport and success. Campbell coached his clients to kick off staff meetings by having them ask people to share something personal. In the case of Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt, who held his staff meetings on Monday, he’d ask what they did on the weekend. If someone had returned from a trip, he’d ask for a “trip report.” Others would tell of kite-boarding adventures or attending a child’s soccer game.

Personal stories are engaging

While this conversation seemed impromptu and informal at first glance, it was part of a communications approach that Campbell developed over the years. It had an ulterior motive indeed.

First, it allowed team members to get to know each other on a personal level, which improved relationships. And second, it got everyone involved in the meeting right from the start – and in a fun way. Getting them to talk early facilitated conversation later. The “trip report” was a simple communication practice that got people sharing stories and making personal connections, which lead to better decision-making.

There is a science behind it

As the Inc. article explains, Professor Uri Hasson’s research at Princeton University “shows that when people share personal stories with one another, they build stronger bonds than if they simply meet to share information.” This “neural coupling” improves communication between speaker and listener. Sharing these personal stories, Hasson found, strengthens the bonds between two people, which encourages rapport and makes it more likely they’ll work well together.

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Communication is critical to leadership

Campbell believed that good communication skills were an essential part of good leadership and helped make a company successful. By having team members share something personal about their lives, relationships are strengthened. If you think about that for a moment, what do you know of the passions of your team, what do they do for fun? This is what I call the 360 approach to leadership.

I would use this technique in New York City where I worked as VP of HR at Martha Stewart. We would regularly have our weekly meetings on Fridays. From spring to the end of summer those meetings would be held in the park, weather permitting of course. We’d cChange the geography, talk about our personal side and only then get to the business.

People first agenda

A leadership client of mine told me of a past leader who would use this technique for all meetings of the senior team. People first; numbers second. Then a new leader came in and changed the dynamics. Let’s just concentrate on the numbers and leave the people stuff out, he decided. Meetings were never the same and neither was the sense of really knowing people.

As my friend Lou said, “Without people, our hotels are just buildings!” Substitute the words of your own business and you will get the power of this phrase.

So, change the discussion and start your next meeting with simple, casual conversations about the non-business lives of the people at the table. Model my 360 approach to managing people. It’s not a waste of time. It’s a powerful team-building strategy and it’s helped to build some of the world’s most admired companies

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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