A more efficient and heartfelt staff meetings, a model

For three months or more in 2017, CNVC staff used this agenda for weekly meetings.  It supported us profoundly.  For over a year, we had not been meeting as a group, in large part because the meetings we had had previously were not productive or enjoyable and took more hours than any of us enjoyed.

This format came from remembering the joy I had with Northwest Compassionate Communication coordinating team in Seattle.  I strived here to recreate the elements which supported joy and accomplishment. The results have been a profound increase in our mutual trust, understanding, and our experience of meaning, belonging, and confidence.

We share this as an agenda you can use and experiment with.

This meeting format uses five “containers,” providing space for a wide range of possible meeting topics.  The order of the segments seems to increase coherence, self and mutual respect, connection, and trust. Needs for safety seem to be better served, resulting in increased participant confidence. The solicitation of input from all members of the team promotes connection, trust, and greater ease.

The five “containers” in the order we liked are:

    1. Check-In with a gratitude
    2. Share Celebrations
    3. Collaboration Requests
    4. Discuss Tough Stuff
    5. Empathy Checkout

1.)  Gratitude Check-In comes from an experience Marshall described in Speak Peace in a World of Conflict when he was working with a woman’s peace organization, using gratitude to ground themselves in the face of their struggles. Starting a meeting with the expressions of gratitude by each person lifts group energy.

See additional scientific research on Gratitude at the end of this article below.

2.) Celebrations engender experiences of gratitude and encourage people to appreciate their work and the work of others.  News framed as “celebrations” flavors normal news reporting so vital to an active workgroup. Framing workgroup news as a celebration encourages awareness of others’ efforts and provides awareness of the organization. 

3.) Collaboration Requests is a place to explicitly what often occurs covertly or before and after workgroup meetings.  Meeting participants are invited to identify where they wish to support and collaboration and/or where they have time and energy to contribute to the tasks-projects of other meeting members. 

The whole group benefits from a stronger picture of workflow in the org, where people have too much or too little to do.  Time and effort can be saved as workflow bottlenecks, stoppages, and other disturbances are identified positively, and collaboratively.  Key issues overlooked are more likely to be exposed and addressed without blame.  

Focus is on the joy of contribution, not on assigning more work or taking on more burdens.  Framing this as “collaboration requests” encourages mutual support.

4.) Tough Stuff is the place on the agenda for people to ask for time and support for unresolved conflicts during the rest of the work week.  We are making a place to support people wishing to discuss things they feel uncomfortable discussing in more casual circumstances.  We are also making a place to discuss the stressful ramifications of staff absences and departures.   We are making a place to explicitly discuss topics that in the average office are addressed by gossip.  

This container is not to become therapy sessions.  Nor is it meant to substitute for employee relations and HR discussions of who is not getting along with whom.  Leadership must have a clear sense of boundaries, specifically, at what point to refer discussions to HR or therapy. 

Short of these extremes, many more minor misunderstandings and conflicts CAN be worked out in this semi-formal setting where everyone is simply mindful and polite.

Avoiding Tough Stuff is a false economy, depending on gossip and staff turnover to handle most problems. 

Ideally, leadership is trained in NVC and can turn conversations in this container towards unresolved, unmet feelings and wants.  Even if the discussion is still tough, such an airing enhanced by a supportive group connection is likely to facilitate or lead to more permanent solutions. 

5) Empathy Check Out Participants express at least one thing they are grateful for from the meeting just concluded.  It may be a need of theirs that was met; it may be a contribution they or someone else made. 

Notes ~ 

The above agenda comes from a business coach I had, a former executive at General Motors. He was convinced his agenda was an essential part of the considerable success of his Division. The benefits were increased morale, sharpened focus, and shorter meetings.  He found participants were ready, able, willing, and wanting to buy into an explicit weekly opportunity to focus on discussing perceived priorities; and foster agreement for people to work together as teammates instead of working in isolation.

The news-sharing function is not to be dismissed.  Morale was increased as management learned what was happening in each other’s departments and perceived how to support each other and ask for targeted support. Morale was also greatly increased as people bought into the opportunity of the meeting as a “safe place” to openly talk about difficult situations and relationships not likely to have any other comparable airing–outside of gossip and unexpected terminations.  This promoted accomplishment and increased morale.  Fear was reduced as more people had more information about what was happening in the whole division–good and bad.   The meetings increased self-empowerment as participants perceived how their tiny contribution impacted others and the division as a whole.  As cheap and easy healthy course correction, such a healthy group process was golden.  

Often in live discussion, procedures no longer workable were uncovered and brought to light in ways management was unable to perceive.  What was happening–and not happening–was a legitimate topic for discussion in these meetings. 

Time was NOT spent on administrative details unless pertinent to a larger discussion.  Admin meetings were separate meetings. 

The two parts I kept from his agenda are what I call the collaboration requests and tough stuff containers. Gratitude Check-In and the Empathy Checkout are new, and Celebrations replace announcements.

Note ~ Pan was the IT Coordinator and Web Master for the Center for Nonviolent Communication from 2007 to 2017.

Additional scientific research in support of the above

In an article about the relationship between happiness and gratitude, Lauren Suval references some of this research: “Lyubomirsky’s research demonstrates how expressing gratitude has several benefits. People who are grateful are likely to be happier, hopeful, and energetic and possess positive emotions more frequently. Individuals also tend to be more spiritual or religious, forgiving, empathetic and helpful, while being less depressed, envious or neurotic.”

HeartMath Institute uses appreciation to achieve heart and mind coherence.  It reports, “Coherence is a state when the heart, mind, and emotions are in energetic alignment and cooperation,” Institute of HeartMath Research Director Dr. Rollin McCraty says: ” It is a state which builds resiliency – personal energy is accumulated, not wasted – leaving more energy to manifest intentions and harmonious outcomes.”
This type of check-in enhances the attendees’ emotional and mental presence.