That was then, this is now

By being unrealistic and crunched for time, I recently discovered a new way to start a follow-up meeting.

The session had been rescheduled several times. Stragglers were making us late and, frankly, I was getting irritated. Because I’m a champion eavesdropper, it was easy to overhear that the team’s memory of our last meeting was dim – and the commitments they left with, then sincere, were now even foggier. Layoffs, the holidays, countless other distractions in the interim… I needed to get them on the same page and focused, fast. Foolishly, I hadn’t built in time to do it.

All I could think of was to make them do it for me.

“Imagine this spot,”  I said, walking to one side of the room, “is 5:00pm on November 17th – the moment we walked out of our last meeting.”

“This spot,” I went about 15 feet, toward the opposite wall, “is this moment now: It’s 8:42, and we’re starting the follow-up.”

I then gave them instructions for an improv form, the “line game,” which actors use to co-create a story. “Your job,” I said, “is to fill in the story of what’s happened, from then until now. One person at a time, add a piece wherever in the timeline it happened. After each person, we’ll hear the whole thing. Then, someone else adds a piece. The story is finished when everyone’s up.”

I planted myself back at the beginning. “We walked out of the session.”

After a brief pause, someone jumped up. In 6 minutes, we had a complete picture. The story included grim acknowledgment of the pain of executing layoffs and the impact of increased workload on their days and families. Some made frenzied double entries, running back and forth. The story was honest: the team described remembering little of our last session, had come unprepared, and would need help getting reoriented. One woman who’d felt out of the loop because of her intense responsibilities in China spun down the entire line, chanting, “I’m traveling, I’m traveling, I’m traveling…”

And me? I found myself softening. I remembered why I liked these people.

Then came the double bonus: “Look at this! It’s just like us,” someone said. “We always get sidetracked by fires and drop our  commitments on the strategic stuff. To get the progress we want, we have to change that. Period.”

Oh yeah. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

What else have you done to get a group caught up and focused between one meeting and the next, or to reflect on the way they are (or aren’t) engaging? I’d like to know about it.