The problem with back to back

Everyone is familiar with a day of “back to backs”. One meeting, after another, followed by another, then another, for hours on end.

The day turns into a blur, each meeting becoming indistinguishable from the next. One person’s white-boarding session blends into another person’s 1:1 which blends into a slide deck that you’re certain you’ve seen before.

Faced with the prospect of more meetings your mind begins to wonder:

Am I having déjà vu? Haven’t we had this meeting before? Oh well, what’s my next meeting about? Oh crap, it’s with finance. Will we finish here in time? We still have so much to get through. But I can’t reschedule finance again, they’re already annoyed at me for rescheduling last time. When am I going to eat lunch? I’m so hungry. Maybe finance will cancel? Sweet potato casserole I hope they cancel.

On and on it goes.

So what to do?

What if, instead, we intentionally built slack into our schedule? What if we made meetings 45min instead of 60min? 20min instead of 30min? How might that change our anxious internal chatter?

What if we had no meeting Mondays, or two meeting Tuesdays? Walking meeting Wednesdays or three meeting Thursdays?

What if we made meetings the exception rather than the norm? How would that change the way we show up?

Leading the witness

If you have ever watched a crime show involving a police interrogation you’ll be familiar with the idea of leading the witness.

The context might change but the scene is always the same. An interrogator is interviewing a suspected criminal in a dimly lit, windowless room trying to get them to fess up. For some reason there always seems to be a half eaten burger and large coke on the table and everyone looks tired.

The police pepper the suspect relentlessly, asking questions designed to lead the suspect to admit their guilt.

The suspect refuses to answer.

The police ask more questions, this time withholding information they know the answer to.

The suspect lies about it, is called out and the police dramatically throw a manila folder on the table in triumph and shout “A-HA!”

In these situations, the question askers are intentionally trying to lead the other person to an outcome, regardless of what it takes.

This might be an effective tactic for catching criminals but it’s no way to seek to connect and collaborate with your team, other leaders or prospective clients.  

Instead, acting with genuine curiosity and providing an opportunity to learn more and connect with the other person is the agenda. How to do this? By following your nose and asking genuine questions.

When leading with curiosity there is no hidden agenda or outcome. Instead, the process of asking questions and holding space is the outcome. 

The hybrid workplace

Is not the same as a remote workplace nor is it the same as a centralized workplace.

It’s an entirely new opportunity. One that most companies have not attempted before. One that requires doing things differently than we have done before.

A good place to start is to consider these questions:

What are the given circumstances? What are we looking to achieve? How might we go about achieving it?

Recent reads (and listens) – March edition

A selection of recently read books and listened to podcasts to assist with your noodling:

For the clearest outline of humanities greatest threat (and what to do about it):

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster – Bill Gates

To revisit one of my favourite books of the last 5 years:

Stillness Is The Key – Ryan Holiday

If you like the idea of hearing me think out loud (hey mum):

Simple Ideas Taken Seriously Podcast with Carly Valancy talking about asking questions and holding space.

The Work Life Podcast with Andrew Scarcella talking about coaching leaders.

And of course The Long and The Short Of It, with my coconspirator Jen Waldman.

PS. If you enjoy these emails/blogs I’d love it if you help spread the word by forwarding one to a friend or two. You might use the subject line “checkout these noods” for a laugh. And yes, I will continue to recycle this joke, and so can you.

In a flurry

No-one will be fully present, in flow, or productive for the entirety of a day.

No matter how hard we try there will be moments of struggle, distraction, tiredness, and frustration.

Think about your day today. Was there a moment where you picked up your phone mindlessly or checked your email in a meeting?

Then at some point, if you’re anything like me, a bunch of things might have happened in a flurry.

You write the email you were putting off all day, call the friend you had been meaning to get in touch with, write a proposal for a prospective new client, book a dinner with your partner, write a chapter of a book, ship a blog and pay 7 bills, all in the space of 28 minutes.

Having done all that, you wonder how it’s possible to get so much done in such a short amount of time.

It happens to me almost every day, and I am still surprised by it.

Knowing this, it’s worth cutting ourselves, and those around us, some slack. Progress rarely looks the way you thought it might.

Taking the dread out of a 1:1

Almost all leaders, managers, and employees working in a company are familiar with the 1:1.

A 30min ‘check-in’ organised by a manager at a regular frequency, designed to catch up with each member of their team.

Often employees dread these meetings because it involves the manager spending ~85% of the time talking at them, providing updates they deem to be important, giving their opinions, and in the worst cases, micromanaging and telling the employee how to do their job.

In these 1:1’s you’ll hear statements like:

  • “Here’s what you should be focussing on…”
  • “If I were you…”
  • “Could you just…”

These managers use it as a chance to disseminate information and their opinions. They fail to consider what it might be like to be the employee, hence, dread.

The opportunity is to remove this dread by using the 1:1 as a chance to disseminate culture. A culture that leads with empathy and a curiosity to find out what it’s like to be the employee. A culture that says: I care about you and what you have to say.

To do so, a leader must flip the ratio on its head and do ~15% of the talking, spending majority of the time asking questions and holding space for their employees.

In these 1:1’s you’ll hear questions like:

  • What are you working on?
  • Where do you feel stuck?
  • How can I best support you?

Once upon a time, I thought wearing a visor was cool. Thankfully I reconsidered this trend. Now is the opportunity to do the same with our 1:1’s and create connection over dread.

Did you know?

A list of things I like to remind myself of regularly, and a handy resource to boot:

  • People like it when your personality is in your work (ie. more height jokes) – see here and here.
  • You’re not the only one who feels like an imposter – see here.
  • Empathy is a skill that can fundamentally change how you view the world and can be practiced starting right now – see here and here.
  • Acting as if is a powerful mindset technique – see here.
  • Three reasons to share a blog each week are: to practice being uncomfortable, to crystalise your thoughts, and to remind yourself of lessons previously learned – see here.
  • Everyone is making it up as they go – see here.
  • You can make a counter-argument to basically anything. That doesn’t make it right, or you wrong (although it might) – see here.
  • We need to be reminded of the same lessons over and over (things are getting meta now) – see here.
  • The calmest, wisest, and most chill emoji is the turtle – see here.