When to Automate, When to Humanize

Recently, Reshan shared a meeting template with me. (I know, my life is incredibly exciting!) It included not only Agenda items and Resources, but also a section for Decisions & Outcomes, Expected Attendees, and Future Meetings. See below, from his blog:

An avowed meeting skeptic, I run more meetings than I’d care to admit, and lots of practice in that area has meant lots of speed and efficiency. I can churn out basic agendas very quickly. I’m good at running meetings (so I’m told). But like everything else, and to mess with a tried and true phrase about perfection, good can become the enemy of the great.

With that in my mind, I tried Reshan’s template last week. I was eager to mix things up, and a new, enhanced agenda template seemed like a fine way to start. Immediately, I found myself moving more slowly (a theme for the year, it seems). Working with the new template was like setting out to run and stepping into a quarter mile of wet concrete.

I had to put in a lot more effort, especially when I wrote my outcomes, something I had never done before. I had to think about each person in the meeting as I typed out the attendee list. I had to account for attendees who told me that they could not be present. And in order to write them down, I had to look up, via the search function on my calendar, our future meeting dates. This last step gave me a useful sense of the sweep of time — or lack thereof — that I would have throughout the year to accomplish the work of the team or committee.

I’ve run two meetings using the new agenda style. And though only time will tell if the approach leads to better team product and process, I can state fully and honestly that I’m putting more effort into each meeting. I’m being more clear — with myself and with others — about why we’re assembled. In the meetings themselves, I feel like I have a better grip on the bat or the ball or the spatula or the paintbrush (or choose your own metaphor).

Meetings are a key part of my core work responsibilities. Running a lot of them means I have improved to the point where I have to be really careful about automaticity. Finding ways to disrupt autopilot mode, to make old work new, to make daily, high leverage tasks more appropriately effortful, seems like an important, even aspirational meta-skill for modern leaders. Going further, an emerging leadership continuum seems to encompass when to automate, on one end, when to humanize, on the other, and all the messy minor steps in between.

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