A Meeting Agenda for Heart Informed Efficiency

For the last three months the CNVC staff has been meeting weekly using this agenda that has supported us profoundly. For over a year we had not been meeting as a group, in large part because the meetings we had had previously were not productive or enjoyable and took more hours than any of us enjoyed. Remembering the joy that I had experienced with the coordinating team of Northwest Compassionate Communication, I strived to recreate the elements that supported that joy and accomplishment. The results have been a profound increase in our mutual trust, understanding, and our experience of meaning, belonging and confidence.

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This agenda includes five segments that provide space for any item that would be discussed at a meeting. These segments are arranged in an order that increases coherence, self and mutual respect, connection, and trust. Values of authenticity and expression are promoted by meeting needs of safety. This results in increased confidence of the participants. The solicitation of input from all members of the team promotes connection, trust and greater ease. 

The five steps are:

    1. Check In with a gratitude
    2. Share Celebrations
    3. Collaboration Requests
    4. Discuss Tough Stuff
    5. Empathy Checkout

This agenda comes from a business coach I had who created his version as an executive at General Motors. He was convinced his agenda was an essential part of the considerable success of his group. The benefits were increased morale, sharpened focus and shorter meetings. The intention was to focus attention on what really needed doing and get people to work together.

Morale was increased because the members of the management team knew what was happening in each other’s departments and were able to see how to support each other and ask for help. Morale was also greatly increased because people has a safe place to openly talk about the difficult situations and relationships that people otherwise choose not to discuss; leaving them as festering obstacles to the work  that promoted accomplishment and a reduction in morale. There was a reduction in fear because everyone knows what is going on. This promotes an increase in self-empowerment because people had a clear understanding how their part fit into the whole, and there was a confidence that needed course corrections would become apparent quickly.

Focus was sharpened because the shared awareness brought attention to what was really happening, or not happening, instead of following processes and procedures that often did not match the needs of the moment. Little time was spent talking about things that did not need attention and much time was spent talking about issues that affected the members of the group in specific ways.

The two parts I kept from his agenda are what I call the collaboration requests and tough stuff sections. Gratitude Check In and the Empathy Checkout are new, and Celebrations replaces announcements.

1.)  The Gratitude Check In comes from an experience Marshall described in Speak Peace in a World of Conflict, when he was working with a woman’s peace organization that used gratitude to ground themselves in the face of their struggles. Gratitude is now widely recognized as having powerfully positive effects on mind and heart coherence. Starting a meeting with the expressions of gratitude by each person lifts the energy of all.

In an article about the relationship between happiness and gratitude Lauren Suval references some of this research: “Lyubomirsky’s research demonstrates that expressing gratitude has several benefits. People who are grateful are likely to be happier, hopeful and energetic, and they possess positive emotions more frequently. Individuals also tend to be more spiritual or religious, forgiving, empathetic and helpful, while being less depressed, envious or neurotic."

And the HeartMath Institute uses appreciation to achieve heart and mind coherence and reports that “Coherence is the state when the heart, mind and emotions are in energetic alignment and cooperation," Institute of HeartMath Research Director Dr. Rollin McCraty says: ” It is a state that builds resiliency – personal energy is accumulated, not wasted – leaving more energy to manifest intentions and harmonious outcomes."
This type of check in actually enhances the emotional and mental presence of the attendees.

2.) Celebrations also engender experiences of gratitude and encourage people to appreciate their work, and the work of others. It provides a flavor of joy to the normal reporting so vital to keeping people informed of each other’s work. This kind of reporting keeps all people aware of the efforts of the others and provide an awareness of the activities of the whole. This awareness increases meaning and awareness of opportunities for shared learning and mutual support.

3.) Collaboration Requests provide space for almost all other reasons people meet. People are asked to identify opportunities for collaboration for the accomplishment of tasks or the achievement of clarity. Topics can range from the development of policy or the execution of specific tasks by sub groups. It encourages an attitude of mutual support. It saves time and effort because inputs from all affected are expressed before strategies that overlook keys issues have been executed. The focus is on the joy of contribution and not on the assigning of burdens.

4.) Tough Stuff is a place in the agenda to clearing misunderstandings and working out conflicts. Not dealing with these kinds of issues has a corrosive effect on efficiency and morale.  It tends to be avoided because dealing with such issues is potentially difficult and stressful. However, avoiding such issues is a false economy. Placing these issues in this part of the agenda often results in easy and harmonious resolution because at this point the participants are bathed in connection and trust. Even if the discussion is still tough, it is much easier to have a needs-based conversation after the level of connection has been enhanced by the three previous parts of the meeting.

5) Empathy Check Out brings people back to a state of gratitude and connection. People express what need the meeting contributed to meeting for them, and often they revisit the celebrations and express gratitude for the level of connection experienced.

Pan is IT Coordinator and Web Master for the Center for Nonviolent Communication