Scale of Commitment

Meeting design tends to concern itself predominantly with arriving at the right logical outcome; it is focused on the necessity of coming out with the rationally correct conclusion. This is an essential pre-requisite of a good meeting, and all of the other purposes of the meeting are built upon this, but it is not sufficient.

Successful meetings also have an emotional component, and this is often more influential of the result than the rational component in ensuring commitment to the conclusions.
There are many who erroneously believe that once a meeting has arrived at the ‘correct answer’ that is the end to the matter, and they then get frustrated and confused when progress on the actions is slow, excuse-ridden, and sometimes non-existent.
The only outcome a meeting can realistically have is in the resulting attitudes and behaviours of its members. The meeting does not change anything except words on a page, it is the subsequent actions and responses of those who are involved in the meeting that either realises those words in practice, or does something different.
The emotional engagement of people with the conclusions of the meeting is essential to the meeting’s ultimate success, but this goes far beyond mere nodding agreement and has huge implications for the very process by which those conclusions are developed.
It is the commitment of people that is key to progress, and that commitment can neither be assumed nor equated to a few simple nods (or even worse, silence).
Commitment is something which we tend to oversimplify into a polarised outcome – people either are committed, or they are not. But commitment is a far more complex beast than can be described by ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and sadly this is something that most meetings entirely fail to appreciate.
Perhaps we can illustrate this point with the following question: What do you think ‘I am in full agreement that we should implement X next week’ actually means? There are a number of potential interpretations outlined below.
Levels of Commitment?
  • I will accept it if X happens?
  • I will support somebody else doing X if I am called upon?
  • I will do A, B, and C in support of X, providing I can fit it in with my other priorities?
  •  I will delay my other work to do A, B, and C in support of X, providing there are no hiccups or problems?
  • I am determined to ensure that I do A, B, and C, and will address any problems that occur?
  • I will ensure A, B, and C happen, and go as far as D if it is needed for X to be implemented?
  • A, B, and C are taken for granted, and I will take personal responsibility, no matter what, for ensuring X is implemented successfully?
This is a broad spectrum of possible interpretations, but on which ones would you bet even-money to ensure the implementation of X?
Only half of them are at a level where we can be relatively confident that things will take place as intended, and sadly, this is not the half that ‘agreement’ normally infers.
Getting to the higher levels of commitment is entirely achievable within the potential and purpose of meeting, but it is usually dependent on a mixture of a number of factors illustrated below (not all of which have to be present, but there does needs to be a sufficient number of them).
It should be noted that these things do sometimes happen almost by accident, and so progress does get made and actions do eventually get completed. But it should also be noted that it is far more normal in many organisations that delays occur and implementations falter as a result of issues in these areas.
In fact delays are so common that managers almost treat them as inevitable and unavoidable, and tend to be almost cynical about approaches which advocate that there may be an alternative.
But that is exactly what we are advocating (and in doing so we are standing against centuries of conditioning): that these factors need to be a conscious consideration in the defined purpose of a meeting, and in its design.
In practice, this means that the meeting needs to be structured in such a way that people get a chance to participate in developing the conclusion (even if that only concerns its local implementation), to constructively raise and address issues, and to contribute their own ideas and experience.
Essentially, the task is one of constructing a series of ways that people can engage with the subject of the meeting such that the conclusion becomes what they really want to do; developing and harmonising their aspirations to the activities that will need to take place.
This becomes even more important in situations where the participants in the meeting, and those that are required to implement the conclusions, come from a range of different areas, departments, or even organisations.
Factors in Ensuring Commitment
  • People believe the conclusion is the right conclusion; and this normally means that they believe their own concerns, issues and ideas have been heard and properly addressed by what has emerged
  • People have a clear picture of what they need to do in support of the conclusion, and the true implications of success, failure, and/or delay (including for them personally)
  • People are confident that their abilities and resources are sufficient to ensure success in their part of the project, and that areas of risk have been addressed
  • People are confident that the other parts of the project will take place as planned, and that their colleagues are also sufficiently committed to it; and this means that those colleagues’ concerns, issues and ideas have been heard and properly addressed by what has emerged
  • There is a sense of ‘team’ in what is about to take place, and an unwillingness to let the other members of that team down.
To the extent that these things are not true for you, what do you do when you encounter your first obstacle?
  • Heave a sigh of relief?
  • Use all your effort and creativity to overcome it?

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