Meetings are for Diamonds not Onions

Blog #1 ~ August 8, 2018

By Kent Wagner

The consensus is that most meetings SUCK!  They suck time. They suck money. They suck energy.  They suck the life out of you and your company. But there is a better way…    

Effective leadership team meetings can and should be the lifeblood of your company… And how effectively you “solve issues” is a key component in how effective your meetings are.

I recently had a very productive quarterly session with one of my most challenging and most rewarding clients and I left with one particularly useful insight on meetings.  During a grueling portion of the session where we clear all issues accumulated on the “issue list” over the prior quarter, the Visionary of this highly effective leadership team that heads a $1.5B company stated that his understanding was that the process of “issue solving” should be that of peeling onions. In the moment, the full visual of the metaphor didn’t hit me, but I was able to respond with an emphatic “Not at all!” and help redirect to a more effective approach of expediting through the issues.  

But let’s think about this metaphor for a minute…  Peeling back onions makes you cry!!! Most meetings are bad enough already.  Why would we want to include a process in our meetings that will by it’s very definition make us cry?  And, taken literally, peeling onions is not only an arduous task, but one that we don’t even do after the outer layer is removed.  Then, when we cook with onions, we don’t actually peel them, we chop them up into the right size pieces as quickly as possible to minimize weeping so that we can enjoy them with our hamburger or omelette.  

Issue resolution is the most valuable part of meetings, yet, more often than not, it gets swallowed up in the discussion process.  Discussion without clear intent and without having defined the issue is in fact much like peeling onions. Can’t we all visualize being around a boardroom table… each of us softly weeping inside as a couple of long-winded individuals “peel onions” ad nauseum?  That is precisely why we hate meetings!

So let’s reframe it…  Let’s think about meetings as a process of mining for diamonds instead of peeling onions.  An “issue” comes into being like a diamond ore exposed in a mine. The day to day activity of your business is the explosive that will expose the issue as a big, ugly boulder that a team member will bring to everyone’s attention in a meeting.  An effective meeting facilitator will then help the team identify which of these big, ugly boulders are most likely to yield the most valuable diamond. The next step is to not delicately peel while weeping, but CRUSH these boulders until you can separate the precious gems from the worthless stones.  The precious stones will avail themselves in one of four ways: 1) big gems (90-day Rocks that will propel your business forward), 2) little gems (7-day ToDos), 3) big pretty stones (a purposeful philosophical discussion providing guidelines but no specific takeaways), and 4) worthless stones.  All are valuable to identify as soon as possible without circular discussion and without the weeping.

If we must use the onion metaphor, don’t think peeling… Don’t even think dicing…  Think quickly chopping to get something you can use. Cut it in half… And ask yourself… Is there anything useful?  No? Then cut into fourths… See anything useful? Still no? Then maybe cut into eighths if you see indications of likely usefulness… Otherwise, move on with the satisfaction of knowing that you are not wasting your time on a big, ugly boulder with no diamonds in it.  If there are truly diamonds in it and your team is an effective leadership team, it will make its way back to the crushing block when the time is right. Meanwhile, the next boulder on your Issue List is ready to produce diamonds right away. Crush it now and stop weeping over onions.