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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

Good Meetings Create Something Valuable (THE LIST: The Art of Gathering)

Priya Parker asks a big question: why do people meet? We are social beings, and we experience life in groups. What, then, is the meaning of our meetings, and how do we do them well? And her answer isn't stuff - how to present better, what snacks to have, what entertainment. Because of our focus on logistics, she argues, almost all gatherings are disappointing.

No, Parker's answer is a sense of belonging: to create an experience in which the participants leave somehow changed for the better. In leadership terms, this is vision. The challenge of hosting such a meeting is how to convey this vision, this growth, to one another - to exchange it, and the emotions that a vision carries Fortunately, that challenge is the subject The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.

So, what advice does she have for us?

  1. Start with clear intention and a specific purpose, not tradition.

  2. Build a guest list and select a space that reflects this purpose, even if it means excluding people or going somewhere different.

  3. Host deliberately and with generous authority.

  4. Create rules to encourage patterns of behavior that benefit the participants.

  5. Prime guests to initiate patterns of behavior before the event.

  6. Vulnerable commonality brings people together and appropriate controversy makes productive and memorable events.

  7. Provide closure.

Be deliberate in our interactions, in other words. When we do these things in any format - simple conversations even, not just meetings - we make great things happen. Leadership demands one further step: the acts that make the vision become real through the performance of work. But before the members can do those tasks, we as leaders must create shared vision. This is why The Art of Gathering is so useful.

While this book is about relationships, or the interactions between people, it reminds us that all endeavors are directed towards an outcome - the story of vision. We build connections with others to accomplish an end.

I can't possibly get into each of these ideas in depth (that's what the book is for!) but overarching across them is a driving pressure to see what is important and to question what we do without thinking. "How can we be more deliberate and therefore more successful?" Parker seems to ask on every page. The second point is that the same outcome can be accomplished through many different means - what matters is that each of us finds genuine means within our leadership styles and our teams.

Here's a way for you to practice: at your funeral, what do you want to change in people? You're dead, and it really doesn't matter what people say about you. So what good can this event create? How can you help people think about their lives, to step outside the rhythms and routines of the normal, to see what is really important and to act upon it? What would you have people talk about? What would you have them see and experience?

The Art of Gathering is valuable not just for how it challenges us to think about our next staff meeting or retreat, but for the insight it offers us about our daily interactions with colleagues, family, and friends. I often use the example of planning a party to illustrate the functions of leadership, and this book shows how deep and impactful leading a party (or any other event) can be. This book is absolutely worth your time.

Welcome to THE LIST!

Parker, Priya. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. Riverhead Books, 2018.

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