Elements of Culture Are Hiding Under the Surface in Your Meetings


In the first article in the meeting culture series, What your meetings say about your company culture, we talked about how meetings can be an lever to support you to build the organizational culture you want. A couple of weeks ago, we led more than 100 people at the Culture First conference in a design exercise. Many participants found it helpful for them to reflect on the relationship between their current meeting practices and personal or organizational values. In this article, we’ll share a framework for how elements of culture show up meetings. Then, in our next article in this series, we’ll share more about how you facilitate an interactive session with your team to inspire them to make the connection of between meetings and the impact on company culture.


Six key elements of culture that appear in meetings


Culture is a reflection of what your organization values. It guides how people act and interact. To engage in discussion about culture, the first step is to establish some shared understanding around how culture is expressed in daily work. We’ve identified six main elements of culture that may appear in interactions like meetings: routines, rituals, language, habits, symbols and norms. Here are some examples of each element and what it means:

  • Routines are standard practices for how work gets done. e.g. Send an agenda before the meeting at least 24 hours in advance.

  • Rituals are special moments that occur on a regular basis. e.g. Start a meeting with a check-in to get to know what’s on everyone’s mind and connect with each other.

  • Language refers to specific terms or phrases the group uses.e.g. Use shared terms like “parking lot”, “devil’s advocate”, “GETGO” (good enough to go).

  • Habits are how things are done without thought. e.g. The same person always takes notes or sets up the technology for the meeting even though it wasn’t assigned to them.

  • Symbols are visual cues that have shared meaning. e.g. Use your fingers to represent your comfort with a decision. A closed fist is not in agreement. Five is fully aligned. Anything in between expresses the nuance that a standard up/down vote doesn’t illuminate.

  • Norms are explicit statements for how people should behave. e.g. Use consultative decision-making approach or avoid interrupting someone when they’re speaking.

There are no right or wrong practices in each category. It’s a framework to help you reflect on your own meeting experience. Practices within each category may support or inhibit your desired culture. For example, if ongoing learning is one of your key values, a habit of rotating meeting roles can support everyone to develop new skills.


Example: Meeting behaviors and practices that support a culture of “curiosity”


Now that you have a basic understanding of these six elements, let’s put them into context. It starts with your culture values.  At Meeteor, one of our key culture values is curiosity. Here’s how we describe it:


We pose questions, experiment, seek information and learn from our customers, competitors and colleagues. We use what we learn to help improve ourselves and the business. We connect dots to unearth insights and make meaning together.

To ensure this culture value is expressed in meetings, we identified some key practices that can support our efforts to build a culture of curiosity.


Routines:

  • If there’s no meeting agenda in the calendar invite, every team member is responsible for asking why they are invited and what the meeting will achieve. We don’t passively accept meeting invitations. If we feel the meeting is not the best of our time, we offer alternative ways to contribute to the meeting discussion.

  • We run review meetings regularly to reflect on our own process and recent learnings. This can help us improve the way we work with each other and distill the key learnings across different workstreams.

Rituals:

  • We start every meeting with a check-in to get to know what’s on everyone’s mind and connect with each other. We are a remote team and it’s helpful for us to spend some time to engage with each other and get to know our colleagues better.

  • At the end of each meeting, the team captures its key takeaways as “learnings” in the meeting notes. We ask ourselves, “What are the things we’d like to make sure we remember a few months from now?”

Language:

  • We use phrases such as “5 whys”, “say more” to draw out ideas and seek deeper understanding. When we’re solving a complex problem, we ask “why” multiple times to uncover the root cause. If we are not sure we understand other’s ideas, we will ask them to share more and listen actively.

  • We ask “how might we” to open up thinking and make space for new ideas.

Habits:

  • We use video whenever possible if connecting remotely. Being able to see someone’s facial expressions and body language helps us identify when there may be lingering questions or confusion that needs additional exploration.

  • When someone says “let’s call a meeting”, we challenge the assumption that a meeting is the only way to get things done.

Symbols:

  • We have a “Learning” category in our meeting note template. The big “L” reminds us to capture the key learnings and takeaways from our conversation.

  • We use empty chairs to symbolize key stakeholders. Just seeing the “stakeholder seat” is a trigger to encourage us to speak from the stakeholder’s perspective.

Norms:

  • We have a norm to help us make better decisions: “State your assumptions.” We appreciate ideas but also want to know more about what is driving someone towards a given position.

  • We have a norm to remind us to challenge past assumptions: “No sacred cows here.” When something worked or didn’t work in the past, it doesn’t mean that it’ll remain the same in the future.

What’s next?


After you familiarize yourself with these 6 elements of culture, you might observe them more clearly in your meetings and daily interactions with colleagues. Take note of your observations. What meeting practices are supporting or inhibiting your culture? In our next article, we’ll guide you through how you can conduct an interactive session to help your team or organization design meeting practices that align with your culture values and put an end to those that conflict with your desired culture.


Related Article: What your meetings say about your company culture

Photo by Ciprian Morar on Unsplash.

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