Are Your Meetings Lectures, Show-and-Tells, or Labs?

How many meetings have you attended in the last few weeks? How many have you led? If you lead meetings, how did you learn to lead them? By emulating the meetings you’ve attended? Employees who are high performing often get promoted to management without any training in how to manage others – and, as a result, often “rise to a level of relative incompetence” (a concept known as the “Peter principle”); the same is true with meetings. Despite the ubiquity of meetings in our daily worklife, most of us don’t receive any training in how to lead meetings.

As well as being brought in to facilitate meetings – especially around strategic planning, or challenging conversations – Building Bridges Leadership often works with teams and organizations who are looking for ways to lead more effective and inclusive meetings. Early on with each group, we ask people to reflect on the framework of the meetings they run. Certainly there are different formats for meetings – in-person, virtual, and hybrid – but the framework refers to something different. Are the meetings collaborative? Helpful? Productive? Or more like a straightforward transfer of information? Are people there as consumers to receive knowledge? Are they on show providing updates? Is everybody working on a common goal or challenge together? In other words, are your meetings Lecture, Show-and-Tell, or Lab?

  • Lecture: As a rule of thumb, the lecture style can be demoralizing unless there is space for genuine interaction as part of the meeting’s structure. The lecture framework is often used for large organizational announcements or updates. Depending on the nature of the announcements, time could be set aside for discussion, commiseration, or celebration to move out of the lecture framework.
  • Show-and-Tell: Commonly used for team updates. It can feel inclusive – after all, you’re hearing from each person, and everyone is contributing something. But being on-show also invites judgment, and can be anxiety-provoking for those who might need more support than they’re getting.
  • Lab: Lab meetings invite collaboration, teamwork, and ownership for the group’s results. Still, inclusion takes thoughtful work, both ahead of time and in the moment. Some actions you take will be different depending on the meeting format used.

Tip of the Week:

Ask yourself what meeting framework is your default. For your meetings coming up, ask which framework would be most appropriate for the topic of the meeting. No meeting falls entirely within one of these frameworks – they are all a blend of some kind, but we do tend to skew one way or another. I have been struck recently by how many people have reflected and realized that they tend to skew heavily toward the lecture format. One recent workshop participant followed-up to write “I’m hoping to set aside 10 min or so from a standing show & tell style meeting to do some ‘lab’ or working session collaboration. (We tend to complain about silos but then don’t share our work in process, maybe this would help.)” Could this be helpful for you this week also?

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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