John Powderly is an online community leader who started an interesting discussion group in Linkedin that I enjoy being a member of.
Recently a lively discussion took place around the theme of “meeting purpose”. John argued that it may be interesting to distinguish between a “common” purpose and a “shared” purpose:
- “(…) A “common purpose” provides an anchor for the meeting that helps to give focus and direction.
- A “shared purpose” recognises that each individual interprets the purpose in slightly different ways AND that achieving the purpose will have slightly different consequences and implications for each individual. One consequence of this may be an exercise that looks like this:
- # What is our purpose [for this meeting]?
- # What does this purpose mean to each person in this meeting?
- # Do we want to refine the purpose [for this meeting]?
However, I do not think we would do this for every meeting. Only those that would benefit from such self-reflection.(…)
So what would those be?
I would not be too strict in classifying meeting types to find where (and where not) we should run these great diagnostic questions, I would rather use a taxonomy for the different parts of meetings and Nicolai Andler’s provides a very interesting conceptual scheme to separate the different stages of problem solving that can also be considered as parts of meetings.
|Meeting stage||Type of thinking||Common pitfalls|
|Diagnostic||Integrative||Being too broad to generate effective responses|
|Goal setting||Visionary and pragmatic||Lack of agreement between top management and operational level on realistic objectives|
|Analysis||Divergent thinking||Looking for the one correct answer|
|Decision-making||Convergent thinking||Allowing politics, ego and emotions rather than logic and sound judgement.|
According to Nicolai Andler, one has to be aware of the required type of thinking for the current problem-solving phase. So the diagnostic questions John suggests above should be made whenever the meeting reaches a convergent thinking stage. Expressing the perceptions of the purpose of the meeting each participant has can have a clarifying effect on the criteria that need to be adopted for decision-making to be less influenced by ego and emotions.
Under this perspective, we need tools that reveal the hidden informal elements of an organization so that personal emotional expectations and obstacles can be addressed. Soft Systems Methodology provides such as set of tools. It elicits the kind of questions about meeting purpose that are easily produced around the very nature of the activity we are examining as a group.
Clarity of purpose is fundamental to any collaboration. Whenever a meeting requires people to agree on doing something collectively it is even more important, however, that the purpose of the collaboration be widely understood and accepted by all the participants.
Soft Systems Methodology reveals the most important aspect of purpose. It reflects a shared or mutual vision that “binds” the various participants together.