By: Lisa Wiebe MA in Personal Growth, 3 years ago



Recently I find myself observing very closely what happens inside of me during meetings. Do you ever find yourself doing that?

I find that sometimes I’m on autopilot. I find myself thinking of the 100 other things that need to be completed or daydreaming about my weekend. While my mind wanders, a small part of me pays enough attention to nod my head when appropriate or to answer a question if one come my way.

Other times, I am fully engaged. I feel myself lean into the meeting listening intently to others sharing their ideas. Ideas begin to spark between us and creative juices begin to flow. Time disappears as we move into a space of generative dialogue. I am fully alive as I contribute fully to the design of our work. In a generative space, new ideas are born.

What is your experience with engagement and/or disengagement at work or in groups?

The challenge of creating the conditions for full engagement is important if you work with others as a leader or team member. A 2017 Gallup study revealed that 31% of employees in the U.S. are truly engaged at work. That leaves a shocking 69% somewhat to fully disengaged in the workplace. The cost of disengagement and the loss of human ingenuity in the workplace is staggering.

I look to nature for some answers to human systems challenges.  Start with the understanding that soil is alive and the foundation for the health of plants.  Then realize that soil is a living process that is constantly adding nutrients to increase nourishment essential for growth.

So, what are the nutrients that support your meetings? Look at your meeting space, the lighting, the seating, the structure of the meeting, the time of day of the meeting, operational agreements, and foundational values that are at play, e.g. respect, inquiry, full participation, and shared responsibility.

When you plant a garden in soil, you carefully built-up the nutrients, you select plants that support each other’s growth and that work well together. They are diverse, and each plant brings their special skills to contribute to their companions.

How might you do this in the workplace? By recognizing every single person in the meeting is unique and has something to contribute that is needed for the benefit of the whole. This is revolutionary thinking! Every single person has an important insight, thought, question, perspective, or observation to contribute.

If every single person in the meeting is essential and has something to contribute, consider how you must can create the conditions for participation. See your agenda as a powerful tool to achieve full engagement of all participants rather than your opportunity to shine.

Rather than wasting precious time downloading information at a meeting, send the information for your team to read ahead of time. Ask for team members to come prepared to engage.

Use a variety of processes and visuals to support breaking out of the daily routine of work. Require no use of electronics in the meeting. Provide time for team members to write down their thoughts and then ask each person to share what they have written. Capture ideas up on a board so every person feel heard and respected. You will be amazed at the wide variety of thoughts that come out when participants no longer piggy back on each other’s ideas.

Christopher Alexander expresses what I have experienced in meetings that are generative in nature.“…all systems in the world gain their life, in some fashion, from the cooperation and interaction of the living centers they contain, … that each one ignites a spark in the one it helps, and that the mutual helping creates life in the whole.”

The key phrase for you to underscore is the mutual helping creates life in the whole. Rather than meetings filled with dominance and/or competition, design your meetings based on the concept of mutual helping that draws the best out of everyone in the room.

What do you think?

Interested in exploring more? Let’s connect.

Lisa Wiebe

[email protected]



Alexander, Christopher. (2002). The Nature of Order: The Phenomenon of Life. The Center for Environmental Structure. Pg. 134


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