I have recently been discussing a new topic with clients and friends: the company that Eugene Eric Kim and I are launching together. It is called Groupaya, a combination of the words “group” and “upaya.” (Rhymes with papaya!) In Sanskrit, “Upaya” translates to “skillful means.” We want to help groups, whether leadership teams, organizations or nations, work together more skillfully to create their futures.
I describe what Eugene and I do as “organizational development on steroids.” In other words, we not only provide excellent strategic thinking, design thinking, development expertise, and facilitation savvy, we also implement tools we think will be useful, ranging from developing an internal website that our clients can use as Communication Central to ethnography to social network analysis to data analysis to tools development.
In these discussions with clients and friends, I am discovering that many of the basics of creating high-performing teams and organizations, which to me are completely obvious, are not the norm in their organizations. Everyone seems to know the value of having clear and shared goals, though rarely do they insist on them. Everyone knows the difference between a good and a bad meeting, yet few companies make it a priority to ensure that all of the hours employees spend in meetings are actually productive.
Some of the simple things we’ve been doing, which take advantage of new technologies and seem to provide mini “breakthroughs” for our clients, include the following: in all our projects, during every meeting, whether it be a conference call or in-person, we ask someone to be the official note taker. Definitely not a new idea. But what’s new is taking notes in a Google document and giving all participants access, so that anyone who is in the meeting can edit or add to the notes at the same time.
This is highly useful in meetings where some participants are speaking English as a second language – easier for them to understand what people are saying when they can see it written down. It also makes it easier to understand different accents, further increasing comprehension, which increases the quality of the conversation and the quality of thinking a group can do together.
The notes are a much more comprehensive recall of the critical aspects of conversation than could ever be captured on a flip chart or by a single person. For in-person meetings, we also project the notes onto a large screen, in case people would prefer to look at the screen instead of their laptop.
As soon as the meeting is over, we post the notes to a private internal wiki, where those who missed it can immediately find out what happened and add their own comments. At the end of the meeting, we also might videotape a few people discussing it. The videos are also posted, giving those who weren’t there a quick and tangible feel for the meeting.
Every meeting follows the same protocol before, during and after. Before the meeting, a Google document is created to collect items for the agenda. Everyone can see this document, which resides in the “cloud.” Everyone can edit the document. In other words, everyone has a chance to give input ahead of time. The document also gives people the opportunity to see whether or not they want to attend. It doesn’t take much time to put this together, and it forces a level of rigor when one has to publish the purpose and content of a meeting before it takes place.
After the meeting, once the Google document has been transferred, it makes it easy for employees to find critical streams of information and stories, comment on them and continue to evolve them.
Why is this so exciting? Through this process, the knowledge generated in meetings is captured so that those absent can still contribute. And when a discussion in a meeting requires more time, it can continue online. Essentially, you can expand the number of people who can participate in a meeting/conversation and the amount of time within which the conversation can take place. Meetings are no longer bound by space or time. More people can contribute to a meeting, more thoughtfully. One more benefit of capturing conversations online – when people leave the company, their knowledge doesn’t go with them.