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Roundabouts – the Meeting Alternative

February 03, 2012

I’ve been writing about meetings off and on for the past year or so.  Feel like
a bit of a fool.  I keep writing about how to do them better.  I even wrote a
series of 3 eBooks on creating high performing meetings… but no one bought
them 🙁   There just hasn’t been that much interest.  I woke up this week,
not from sleeping, but consciously on the topic of meetings.  Let me tell you
what popped for me.

Most people at work have a few favorite complaints about meetings.  You
probably have your list and have heard these from others as well:
– They take too long, not a clear agenda, no one cuts long-winded X off
– Meetings take up to big a part of their day, makes it hard to get things
– People go to meetings to have status, something on the schedule, not
because they necessarily create value

But at the end of the day, most of us don’t get serious about changing meetings.

Why?  Well its funny, but meetings have been around since all the way back
to Garden – remember that interesting one with God, Adam, Eve and the fig
leaves. Meetings, despite all the problems, meet some important status,
social, comfort and communication needs.  They grease the political wheels
in every corporation I’ve worked with.

Meetings aren’t going away anytime soon.  Even if they are outdated in the
21st century as a way to communicate information, analyze data and make decisions.

So here’s what I thought this week, as I heard one more person talk about
how little people get done at their company… because everyone is attending
meetings all day long.  I think they described their organization as having
a “meeting culture.”

I thought, “What if you don’t improve meetings?”  What if you just leave
them be?  Meetings were around long before I started working, and they will
be here long after I quit working.  If you Google it, the estimates are that
between 11 million and 25 million meetings occur every day in the US alone.

Then I started thinking, what if  you wanted to create this dynamic
interchange between people at work?  What if it had to run at the pace
that everything else is happening?  What if it had to allow people to merge
seamlessly in a conversation,  not have one person at a time consume
large amounts of time?

What if we needed a different image, a different story to approach this type
of interaction.   What if we called them, saw them, operated in them as…
drum roll…. “Roundabouts!”

What if people participated in Roundabout interactions like they do when
driving their car?  I mean no one parks their car in a roundabout, nor do
they endlessly go in circles.  The key is to merge into a fast moving paced
sequence and exit when you don’t need to be there any longer.

What if roundabouts only occur when you need to get people coming from
different vantage points, circling the topic and then redirected in the new
direction?  What if roundabouts couldn’t occur without a convergence,
a decision to be made?  What if Roundabouts were solely focused on
coordinating effort, and getting the input and updates from multiple
people to allow you to make the best decision, and it all had to keep moving.

What if you didn’t sit in a roundabout?  What if you stood up in these
interactions?  What if you had sort of portable lecterns that people
grabbed so they could stand and still work with their notes, type on
their laptop, write on their notepad?

I told my wife that I wanted to go into the business of building portable
Roundabout stands that would fold up in the corner, but then stand up
like music stands, but flat at the top.  She suggested I not got into
manufacturing just yet.  She’s good at discerning enthusiasm and
business demand.  She didn’t write the eBooks on meetings, I did 😉

Bottom Line:

What if we created new rules:
1. Go to meetings to be seen, be heard, be supportive, stay current and
101 other reasons, but if you want to get things done…
2. Go to a Roundabout.  My term, for  a new interaction structure that
supports multiple people rapidly addressing a series of issues, and then
taking off, with the key being concise, short, interactions, spaced exchanges
and clear exits.

Tell me what you think.

2 Comments. Leave new

Very thought provoking post. I’m not quite sure the roundabout is the answer, but it’s definitely a creative step in the right direction. Maybe roundabouts work for certain type of meetings, but you need other traffic-type analogies for other types.

ps the mailing list on the free ebook page is not working.


Hi Mark,
Thanks for the comment and keep me posted if another traffic image comes to mind. The free ebook is at http://rodneybrim.com/info/ebooks I checked and the link is working, just leave your name and email address and you get access to them, or you can find additional ones to purchase at the bottom of http://www.managepro.com/cart


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