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Meetings; are we planning or briefing?

Usually, we gather our people together for two reasons. Either to plan, or to brief.

And these require us...the use VERY different language to be successful.

Planning requires diverse options and then careful analysis. Both of these need creativite, innovative thought, and we want EVERYONE to speak. Planning requires 'THINKING LANGUAGE'.

Briefing is more direct. Clear, concise instructions and allocation of responsibility delivered in a confident manner. Usually the boss will speak the most. Briefing requires 'DOING LANGUAGE'.

I would argue that MOST of the time, we should be using THINKING LANGUAGE. It is certainly the case in my office, an airliner flight deck. I want my team to offer me diverse opinions, and be empowered to help me problem solve, not nod their heads and affirm my sometimes crappy ideas.

The boss gathers his team in the meeting room. Consider the following two questions:

A. "So team, clearly there are two possible courses of action here, but as you can see, this option is better. Does anyone have any further points before we move on?"

B. "So team, I've can think of two solutions for this issue, but I really want to brainstorm to see if I'm missing something. I usually am! What other options are there?"

On the surface, question A doesn't seem unreasonable. The boss is speaking politely, and is asking for 'further points' before moving on. But...I can tell you from experience, question A will almost certainly be met with passive nodding of heads. An absolute disaster in a planning meeting!

By asking question B, the boss has firstly admitted that he or she doesn't have all the answers. This creates what culture-expert Daniel Coyle calls a 'vulnerability loop'; by showing our team we are vulnerable, we introduce an incredibly powerful mechanism to build loyalty and safety.

Secondly, the boss invites input. Since we are planning, the objective here is to bring out the most diverse range of options available. By deliberately NOT telling the team what her solutions are, she creates space for them to offer up a host of crazy and not so crazy ideas. One of those ideas may save the day.

If my airliner is crippled and I want to analyse our options for a safe diversion, I must use language that encourages ideas and creativeness. "What have I missed...", "What would you do...", "How can we make this safer..."

Yet after we have made a decision and are executing our plan, I must use language which encourages direct and timely action. "Request an approach to runway 02", "Activate the secondary flight plan", "Advise operations of our diversion".

I have found I naturally gravitate towards 'doing language', and it requires conscious effort to ask open questions and to encourage the team to find fault with my plan. But for me, the results of getting this wrong can be catastrophic.

When you gather your team together, be very clear in your head what you are doing. Are you meeting or briefing?

Should you be using 'thinking language' or 'doing language'?

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