Dan Mezick on Making Meetings More Effective
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| Interview with Dan Mezick by Shane Hastie on Nov 22, 2013 |

Bio Daniel Mezick is a management consultant, keynote speaker and author. He is the formulator of the Open Agile Adoption method and the author of THE CULTURE GAME, a book describing 16 patterns that can help any team get smarter.

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2. Just very briefly, you have actually very generously given InfoQ readers a whole lot of extracts from the Culture Game book. Do you want to give us a very, very quick overview?

Sure. The Culture Game book comes from a place of Agile coaching. Some companies can’t do effective Agile practices, so the question is, what can they do? What can I give them that they can do now, that will get them to a spot where they can then move towards genuine agility. So the book basically extracted 16 patterns of group behaviour that have nothing to do with IT, that you could use immediately in a business context, that will make your group smarter. So, things like facilitating your meetings, being punctual; these kinds of ideas. There is 16 of them, if you do three or four of them together, your groups gets smarter. One of the chapters is “Game your meetings” and in that I explain that meetings are in fact games.


3. Can you elaborate a bit more on that. What does it mean, when you say a meeting is a game?

Yeah. So, most of the time if you want to elevate engagement, you want to use game mechanics to do this and in a meeting, there is four elements of a good meeting. You need a clear goal, you need clear rules, you need a good feedback loop – a good feedback mechanism, and the last piece is opt-in participation. Now these four properties of a good game are outlined in Jane McGonigal’s book “Reality is broken”, where she defines what a game is and she says it has these four properties. So if we inject these properties and are mindful of them in our experience design for our meeting as managers, we can elevate levels of engagement.


4. Goals, rules, feedback, we sort of understand that, or I am suspecting we understand that. Opt-in participation?

Well, everyone is opting out of your meeting if it is not fun to play. So if does not have the clear goal, clear rules, and great feedback loops, folks are going to check out. They are going to be physically present and they’ll be mentally absent. So they’re in fact already gone. They have in fact opted out. We know from the work with games, that opt-in participation is essential for the engagement. There is also a sense of belonging when I opt in with you. So that also ministers to my happiness, right? Tony Hsieh talks in his book how basic happiness comes from a sense of control, sense of progress, a sense of belonging. That’s three of the four things in his book. So by opting in I am agreeing with you to the goals and rules and the way we collect feedback. So I have a sense of belonging as well, and so do you and everyone else in this meeting.


5. A person leading a meeting using these techniques would literally ask people to opt in?

I think it is an interesting experiment, Shane, to simply define who is required to attend a meeting, with the explicit statement that everyone else is not, unless they wish to attend, and see what happens and inspect that data. You might be surprised to learn that people you thought were in are really out and people you thought were out are really in, when you invite them. So this brings up the whole concept of invitation versus mandate, right? So an invitation makes you feel important and special, but a mandate makes you feel diminished and somehow disrespected.


6. The automated request that says “there is a meeting, you will be here!” as opposed to “I am running a meeting, would you like to come?”

Yeah, so managers might take a shot at taking like a low impact meeting, make it optional and see what happens. And I think what the audience will find out if they play this experiment, is that the people who come in, will have a sense of passion and responsibility around the meeting goal and you will have a much more highly engaged, productive meeting, because everyone is in.


7. That sounds pretty good, but what can we do to make our meetings themselves more productive and fun? So you got the right people here now, the ones that want to be here, but how do we make this, because a typical meeting is “Oh, let me out of here!”?

Right, right. The term that’s used often is a soul sucking death march. Right? So the number one best advice I can give now, is to facilitate your meetings. A good facilitator will expect us, if we convene a meeting, to be clear on our goals, what the ground rules are and how we are going to progress to the agenda. And this facilitation also distributes authority. So the facilitator works for the convenor. The convenor now has much more freedom to observe much more subtle behaviour and feedback, because they are now free from the administration task. The other two things are I would say, in a practical basis, is put up a clock with a count down timer somewhere, where people can be aware of how much time remains. And always have a visual agenda where you are checking off progress throughout the meeting. So through checking off the agenda in a visual display and having the clock, another dimension of progress, you will going to increase actually the happiness of the people in the meeting, on the hypothesis that a sense of progress delivers happiness.

Shane: Interesting stuff. Dan, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us about this. You have given us a lot to think about and we look forward to the next instalment.

Thank you Shane.