I used to have a lot of meetings in my life. From, say, 8 am to 5 pm most days. In fact, we were so busy meeting that we never had any time to do the actual work we were meeting about. Which, some might argue, is an issue.
I’ve also been part of a culture where folks not only don’t like to meet (in “meetings), but they are really conscious of meeting practices. Best example comes from my old camp counselor days, when we were all so tired by Sunday night staff meetings that we wanted maximum efficiency…and worked well to get it. My favorite group practice was the subtle (and not) mimicking of holding a huge steering wheel — when someone got going on a rant, we always described it as “driving a big bus,” and we would demonstrate. It was astonishingly useful and not too painful to experience as the driver, which is perhaps why it was so effective. It called your attention without really calling you out.
I’ve been at meetings with agendas, meetings without; meetings with strong leadership and meetings with none. I’ve met with presidents and provosts and with middle-schoolers and with everyone else you can imagine. And still, the best meeting I’ve had yet happened today, on the second floor of my house, called and managed by my three-year old.
He requested a meeting formally: “Mama, Chi, let’s have a meeting, okay?”
He pointed out his need for a “hammer” (a gavel) but accepted my alternative offering (a full tube of A&D ointment). He pointed us to seats around his foot-high table but graciously permitted me to sit in a chair I would not break.
He declared a clear purpose: “This is a muffin meeting.” And he ran it with clarity and vigor: “Mama, what kind of muffin do you want to make?” Pumpkin. “Malachi, what kind of muffin do you want?” Pumpkin. He then asked the same thing of himself and of four or five participating stuffed animals; he had the grace to be amused when the rabbit answered “carrot” to everything. His own preference was zucchini-banana, and although his was the only voice for it, he declared it the winner. (In equal and opposite reaction, I later went downstairs and made pumpkin muffins. There was no rebuke.)
After the muffin meeting there was a cake meeting (“carrot,” said the rabbit), and a soup meeting. There was a bizarre and abbreviated “lamb” meeting (at which we were surprised to learn that Elmo, at least the one who lives with us, declared himself a vegetarian) before we turned our attention to the birds at the feeder and adjourned by default.
It was short; it was sweet; it was participatory. No decisions were made, except by the leader in the moment and by me later, but I suppose that’s all pretty typical. I wonder if most meetings wouldn’t be a little bit improved by two parties under three years of age?