change company culture

How to Change Your Company Culture One Meeting at a Time

Be it General Motors, the Veterans Administration, or the U.S. Congress, the answer to the problems these organizations face is always the same: change the organization’s culture.

Culture change appears to be a daunting task. A task so big, so formidable, we don’t even know where to start. So we give up. We go along all the while blaming the culture for the way things are. This is convenient, but hardly useful.

Culture Change: Yes, You Can

There is a way to shift your organization’s culture that is within your control and is not beyond your reach: Change the way you lead and participate in meetings.

Yes, meetings, those mind- numbing, energy- sapping experiences that we love to complain about but do little to change. With 11 million meetings per day in the U.S. alone and half of them unproductive, the ripple effect of changing a meeting can reach far beyond the meeting itself.

Leadership expert Peter Block writes in his foreword to Terms of Engagement: New Ways of Leading and Changing Organizations, “The structure, aliveness, deadness, whisper or shout of a meeting teaches and persuades us more about the culture of our workplace than all the speeches about core values and the new culture we are striving for … What we call meetings are critical cultural passages that create an opportunity for engagement or disengagement.”

With 11 million meetings per day in the U.S. alone and half of them unproductive, the ripple effect of changing a meeting can reach far beyond the meeting itself.

Meetings are cultural snapshots of how people in the organization relate to each other. They tell us all we need to know about power and authority, decision-making, communication patterns and the way people relate to each other.

Ford Changed the Culture by Changing the Meetings

Sara Miller Caldicott describes in a recent Forbes article how CEO Allan Mullaly’s use of meetings was vital to Ford’s turnaround. “… it would have been a moot victory had Mulally not also changed the way meetings were conducted, the way supplier agreements were developed, and the way people treated each other day-to-day. It has been reported that before Mulally took over, internal meetings at Ford were like mortal combat. Executives regularly looked for vulnerability among their peers and practiced self-preservation over collaboration. Mulally changed all that, making executive meetings a safe environment where data could be shared without blame, improving collaboration and setting the stage for innovation success.”

The structure, aliveness, deadness, whisper or shout of a meeting teaches and persuades us more about the culture of our workplace than all the speeches about core values and the new culture we are striving for.

While I’m sure the meetings Sara Miller Caldicott describes at Ford were efficient, that was not what she chose to highlight. The new ways of working together that these meetings fostered made the difference at Ford.  Success in these meetings required a combination of listening, inquiry, and straight talk.  Caldicott goes on, “By personally modelling candor and willingness to openly speak about complex, taboo subjects, Mulally built a safe operating environment for his direct reports.”

Start the Change by Changing the Agenda

Productive, collaborative meetings require a different kind of meeting agenda, an agenda that puts as much emphasis on the meeting’s process as its content. We have found that the Meeting Canoe™ gives meeting leaders such a framework, one that produces seismic shifts in the way people meet.

How to Change Your Culture One Meeting at a Time with the Meeting Canoe™ 

canoe

Creating meetings where people feel Welcome and Connected to the task at hand helps create an environment that supports fruitful dialogue. Listening, straight talk, and inquiry are the essential skills needed in the Discover and Elicit portion of the agenda. Being clear at the outset about the process the group will use to make decisions gives everyone a clear understanding of the rules of the game. Attending to the end provides closure to the experience, giving everyone an understanding of the decisions reached, the path forward and a way to improve future meetings.

Creating meetings where people feel Welcome and Connected to the task at hand helps create an environment that supports fruitful dialogue.

When your meeting carries with it the electric charge of autonomy, challenge, learning, meaning and feedback, your meetings become productive work experiences. The more features you use, the better your meeting will be.

  • Autonomy – The ability to influence the meeting’s design and its outcome
  • Challenge   – The prospect of stretching your skills
  • Learning     – The opportunity to learn and grow
  • Meaning     – The chance to work on something that is important
  • Feedback   – The capability of measuring the meetings progress

You Have the Power to Change the Culture

Meetings provide a rapid way to shift your organization’s culture no matter where you sit in the organization. The beauty about what happens in meetings is they are under our control. If you are a meeting leader, you can use your power to create meetings such as those conducted within Ford– or not. You can use the Meeting Canoe framework– or not. You can create meetings that carry an electric charge– or not. You can decide whether your meeting experience will be one of self-preservation or collaboration. It’s up to you.  When’s your next meeting? Head for the Meeting Canoe.

 

Did you like today’s post? If so you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive The Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!

Copyright: andrewgenn / 123RF Stock Photo

Dick Axelrod, author, speaker, consultant, cofounded with his wife Emily the Axelrod Group, Inc., a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect large-scale organizational change. In his work Dick seeks to transform business interactions into human experiences. Dick has taught at American University, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago. He is the proud grandfather of Zach and Andy. Dick is long suffering Chicago Cubs fan which explains his optimistic spirit.

  • Tim Kuppler

    I love your meeting canoe and your other feedback about meetings.

    I don’t for a second feel that changing meetings changes the culture. The Ford example is a good one but the meeting aspects of what Allan Mulally changed was a small part of the overall transformation he led. The vision, values, strategies, measures, goals, communication systems, management systems, reward and recognition, employee development, meetings as you referenced, and many other areas changed in a VERY integrated way to support the culture he was looking to reinforce. I completely agree that meetings and the leadership shown in meetings is part of the formula but it doesn’t change the culture.

    I think part of the reason why the vast majority of culture transformations fail is that leaders change one thing after another, sometimes big things like how meetings are managed, hoping it will have a substantial impact on the culture. It’s a great post on meeting changes and they should be part of a much greater plan if there is an interest in real culture change.

  • http://batman-news.com Fred Stawitz

    CEO Mulally “built a safe operating environment for his direct reports.” The point seems to be that modeling the behavior you would like to see replicated by others knows few boundaries. Meetings or any interaction with others in the workplace provides this opportunity. A bit of caution here if you are not in a leadership position and you try shifting the dynamics of a meeting in a non-supportive environment..

  • Pingback: How to Change Your Company Culture One Meeting at a Time | The Axelrod Group()

  • Dick Axelrod

    Thanks for your comments. All the things you mention are important and they work to reinforce the culture you are trying create. And, all the decisions about visions, values, etc usually take place in meetings. The way people experience those meetings directly impacts the decisions made and degree to which they are supported throughout the organization.

  • Dick Axelrod

    Thanks for your comments. All the things you mention are important and they work to reinforce the culture you are trying create. And, all the decisions about visions, values, etc usually take place in meetings. The way people experience those meetings directly impacts the decisions made and degree to which they are supported throughout the organization.

  • Dick Axelrod

    Thanks for your comments. All the things you mention are important and they work to reinforce the culture you are trying create. And, all the decisions about visions, values, etc usually take place in meetings. The way people experience those meetings directly impacts the decisions made and degree to which they are supported throughout the organization.

  • Dick Axelrod

    Thanks for your comments. All the things you mention are important and they work to reinforce the culture you are trying create. And, all the decisions about visions, values, etc usually take place in meetings. The way people experience those meetings directly impacts the decisions made and degree to which they are supported throughout the organization.

  • footer-logo

    There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

  • Contact Us



    email: connect@switch&shift.com
    1802 North Carson Street
    Suite 206
    Carson City, NV 89701


    Terms & Conditions  |  Privacy Policy

  •  

    2 + two =