Can't we just talk it over? Why you should BAN open conversation in your next meeting

If you ask most people how they plan to accomplish the goals on their next meeting’s agenda, they would most likely shrug their shoulders and say, “We’re going to discuss the issues and problems”. 

It’s likely that most of your meetings unwittingly use “open discussion” as the main methods to brainstorm new ideas, problem solve, or build a sense of connection between meeting participants.  We rely on our agreement to “share airtime” or “step up, step back”, so that things don’t get out of hand. It might feel harmless or even forward-thinking to create an organic space for ideas and connections to unfold.

However, in my experience, if you want to have meaningful, equitable, and efficient meetings,  unstructured open discussion is the least effective method. 

If you want to have meaningful, equitable, and efficient meetings,  unstructured open discussion is the least effective method. 

What is at risk when the group goes about their work by having an unstructured open discussion? You may have seen some of these examples:

  • Those who have positional power take over 

  • Articulate and bold people get a disproportionate amount of time

  • Good ideas get lost

  • Conversations migrate into unintended territory

  • The groups falls into a pattern where each person shares their particular point of view don’t tune-in to others

You may be wondering, “Can’t we just wing it? Does every meeting a need an elaborate plan and structures? Can’t we just talk?”

In my experience, only the most primed, attuned, and focused groups can make it productively through an unstructured open discussion.

 And frankly, after a few minutes, most unstructured groups decide together on some kind structure to aid them in their process. These groups will soon start giving structure to their discussion and say things like,

“Let’s all put our ideas on sticky notes, put them on the wall, and then vote.”

“Let’s get into pairs and brainstorm.”

“Let’s put 2 mins on the timer, and speak off the cuff about our thoughts.”

In my courses, Lead Groups Better, I’m noticing a fundamental shift that happens when people re-think how they design meetings. This shift is to avoid the most common (and least productive) ways to meet: open conversation. I teach essentials skills to any group convening like priming (everything you do before you get to the meat of the meeting), agenda building (where you figure out the how of getting each item sorted out) and structures that meet your goals more effectively than open discussion.

See if you can plan your next meeting and never use open discussion. You’ll get something better than being more efficient, you may find that the meeting is enjoyable. Even delightful.

I dare you.