Quite often in organizations with an entrenched hierarchy and a turf-conscious middle management, meetings become an important part of the organizational culture. There is an underlying struggle for power and influence over the organization’s policies, vision and future. Some people actually put on their “game-face” in meetings, knowing that meetings can be serious business.
There are, of course, others in an organization who recognize the gamesmanship and stay ahead of the power curve. They are the true progressives and know the role that present dysfunction or ongoing problems are the result of either neglect or someone’s stake in continuing the status quo.
A profound reality of human nature is that in any interaction between people who have something in common, the issue is inevitably power. The forgoing might sound cynical or overly simplistic, but it gets to the heart of the matter when you think about how difficult it is to institute change.
Even if change is for the overall good of an organization, someone’s power is at stake, and people tend to line up on either side of an issue or controversy depending on where they are on the power grid. Those in the middle, of course, are interested bystanders, who might be actively influenced towards either side depending what’s in it for them.
The biggest hurtle in instituting change is convincing the opponents, making the proponents care and educating the uncommitted that something is actually broken. The common objection is this: “If it isn’t broken, why try to fix it?”
Others might point out that their vital role in the organization rests on how well they continue to attack and resolve the symptoms of a particular problem. The latter group are the ones who actually have a vested interest in the continuation of the status quo. Within their group, their continued “looping feedback” perpetuates a resistance to change that can become toxic.
So translating all that to the dynamics of meetings — and the fact that meetings suck the life out of innovation when change becomes a target rather than a goal — how can you prevent worthwhile change from being strangled at birth? Here are a few suggestions of what to do before a meeting where change is on the agenda:
- Recognize that opposition can be intense, while support is often lukewarm.
- Dilute the opposition through persistence and demonstrating that the change is worthwhile. Networking through the organization’s social media, posting presentations and evidence everywhere you can are strategies that can get your innovation moving before the nay-saying can get its shoes on.
- Turn up the temperature of the lukewarm support by amassing a body of evidence — literature, presentations, etc. — that become the actual “folklore” of your campaign. Facts are stubborn things, and if they are on your side, they are stout allies. They will rouse your support and convince the uncommitted.
- Make sure that the decision makers are aware of what you are doing and why the change is for the betterment of the organization. They will ultimately decide whether the disruption and reallocation of the power involved is worth it.
Finally, recognize that a meeting where antagonists are present can be a low-key, outwardly polite, but highly charged forum. Prepare for an forestall ambushes with the facts and counterarguments you have developed in the face of previous objections. If you are in command of the facts and the bottom-line benefits of change, you could be at the vanguard of revolutionizing your organizational culture.
If your organizational culture is counterproductive to the company’s bottom line, the change will either eventually occur by necessity, or the organization will atrophy and fall under its own weight. That weight is nothing more than mediocrity, where excellence is viewed as threatening. Recognize that excellence attracts followers at all levels of an organization, and stick to your guns!
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