Meet for Diamonds not Onions

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…  Leadership team meetings can and should be the lifeblood of your company. How well you solve issues is a key component in how powerful your meetings are.

I recently had a productive quarterly session with one of my most challenging and rewarding clients. I left with one particularly useful insight on meetings. During an especially grueling portion of the session where the team clears 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 asked a question, “Isn’t the process of issue solving supposed to be like 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 onions makes you cry!!! Most meetings are bad enough already. Why would we want to include a process in our meetings that by it’s very nature will 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. When we cook with them, we don’t actually peel but chop them up into right size pieces as quickly as possible to minimize weeping so we can enjoy them with our hamburger or omelet. 

Issue resolution is one of the most valuable parts 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 silently weeping as a couple of long-winded individuals peel onions ad nauseam? That is 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 toyield the most valuable diamond. The next step is to crush (not delicately peel while gently weeping) but crushthese boulders until you can separate the precious gems from the worthless stones. We do this through effective discussion, but this is where most of us fall back into bad habits of circular discussion and begin peeling onions. This can be solved simply (but not always easily) by a good facilitator steadily reeling the team back in with the question, “What is the issue?” Once the team has a clear answer to this question, the stones will avail themselves in one of four ways: 1) big gems (90-day SMART Rocks that will propel your business forward), 2) little gems (7-day SMART To Do’s that are stepping stones to success), 3) pretty stones leading to purposeful philosophical discussion creating general guidelines and understanding but no specific takeaways, and 4) worthless stones to discard immediately. All are valuable to identify as soon as possible without circular discussion and without weeping.

If we must use an 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 here? If the answer is no, then cut it into fourths… See anything useful? Still no? Then, if you see indications of likely usefulness, maybe cut it into eighths… 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. And don’t worry about missing out on hidden gems. If your team is an effective leadership team, that boulder will make its way back to the crushing block when the time is right. Meanwhile, the next ugly boulder on your Issue List is ready to produce diamonds right away. Crush the diamond now and stop weeping over onions.