Maggie and I have been working with business coaches for years. We credit our coaches, Elyse Napolitano and Anna Scott, with helping us find our path to partnership with one another, and with advising us on how to get out of our own ways to achieve the quick growth of our business.
Elyse (kindly, sometimes wrongly) credits us with being good at noticing the problems and challenges we face.
When Elyse first told me that I was good at “self-coaching and self-correcting,” it gave me an idea for how to reframe our weekly partner check-in.
A Broken Agenda: Look…A Squirrel!
Here’s a great thing about being in business with Maggie – we REALLY, REALLY like each other. And we care about each other, which is a wonderful thing to have in a business partner, but can also be a serious distraction. Meetings often looked like:
Maggie: “Ok, we only have an hour today, so we need to get down to our agenda. Item 1 – How are we doing on our sales goals?”
Paige: ” You are so right. Keep me focused. We both have a ton going on this month.”
Maggie: “No kidding. You have that meeting with CrowdFlower this afternoon; did they like your venue ideas?”
Paige: “Yeah, they did! We’re moving forward with The Village. Which reminds me, are you in contract with AppDirect?”
Maggie: “Yes – just got the contract back today. Wait, we’re already off track. Argh!”
(If you’ve seen the Pixar movie “Up” this can be summed up as “Squirrel!”)
So, in an effort to truly stay focused and hone in on the most important things, we developed what we named a “Self-Coaching Agenda” for a short weekly check-in meeting. The partners used it for about six months before rolling it out to our full team. It has proven itself to be a very effective tool.
What’s Wrong With Traditional Meeting Agendas?
A standing agenda for a typical meeting might look like this:
- Review tasks from last meeting
- Next Steps
- Wrap Up
What struck me is that there’s nothing about this agenda that invites you to discuss uncomfortable topics, seek change, seek assistance, or pushes you, and drives you to change. On top of that, Maggie and I knew it wasn’t working for us because we were getting off track and getting off our calls feeling even less focused than before.
Works fine, right? If it’s not broken, why fix it?
Our meeting tools—like countless ineffective meeting tools and techniques used in conference rooms around the world—were indeed broken or lacking at the very least. Unwilling to stay stuck in convenient yet ineffectual habits, Maggie and I set out to create and implement a new meeting strategy that would be effective, save us time, sanity, and perhaps have a bit of fun. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what is working for us now; tips and tricks, and important questions to ask yourself.
How We Reinvented the Agenda Wheel
SET A TIME LIMIT
The partners wanted this new meeting format to be brief. We meant for it to be a 15 minute call each Monday morning to get our week started off right. Instead, the meeting had been running 30-45 minutes, lacking focus, and easily letting us get off track.
So, we recommitted to having just a fifteen minute meeting, and revising the agenda to work within that time frame. Most meetings have time limits, but if you find yours is always running long, that’s a recipe for draining the energy out of the room. Recommit to your timeframe, or better yet, shorten the meeting time before you proceed.
WHY ARE YOU HAVING THIS MEETING?
You’ve probably heard it before ﹘ set a goal for your meeting. How can you know if your meeting is successful if you don’t know WHY you are having the meeting in the first place?
In the case of our very short partner check-in call, Maggie and I wanted to achieve the following:
- Identify things that were keeping us from getting our work done
- Motivate ourselves for the week ahead
- Identify places we could support each other
Now that we were clear on our meeting purpose, we needed an agenda that would help us achieve this. Here’s where Elyse’s praise regarding our “self-coaching” strengths really sparked my thinking.
Years ago, I took a weekend long introductory coaching course at Coaches Training Institute (CTI), and one of the concepts that stayed with me was the idea of asking “powerful questions.” CTI describes powerful questions as “provocative queries that put a halt to evasion and confusion. By asking the powerful question, the coach invites the client to clarity, action, and discovery at a whole new level.”
It occurred to me that we could come up with a fresh agenda full of powerful questions that would help us uncover what was holding us back.
A Transformative Self-Coaching Agenda
Maggie and I weighed a set of effective questions that we could ask ourselves each week that would help achieve our meeting goals? In this case, we figured out that they needed to be quick, easy, and they could be personal and even ‘griping’, because we wanted them to be about where we were stuck and what obstacles we were allowing to get in our own way.
Our new agenda is no longer a list of static headings but a list of questions!
Here’s the list of questions that Maggie and I came up with:
- Share one success since we last spoke.
- What’s eating you?
- What are you procrastinating?
- Who’s driving you crazy?
- What can you let go of?
- Name one thing you can do to feel at your best.
How We Use the Self-Coaching Agenda
Maggie and I can use this agenda anywhere (yes, even while driving or prancing around the home office in our PJ’s or yoga pants).
First thing on Monday mornings, one of us calls the other and has a quick “how was your weekend?” before we get down to business. If I’m driving or my hands are full, Maggie will interview me by reading down the questions.
We try to answer quickly, off the top of our heads, and with no parameters. For instance, our answers aren’t limited to business; I am as likely to answer the question “Who’s driving you crazy?” with “myself,” or “our building painter – he isn’t getting back to me” as I am to say “ABC Catering. They won’t budge on their budget.”
I provide my answers to each question as quickly as possible while still being thoughtful. Maggie then answers, either by interview format or going down the list of questions herself.
It fits within our time frame, and if we have time left over, we might drill down on things a little bit. If I said I was stuck on writing proposals for new clients, Maggie might circle back to that and ask how she can help. If Maggie confesses she’s having a tough week personally, I might encourage her to go gentle on herself and even put off something that’s just not that important in the grand scheme of things. These are “human moments” and we definitely want space for them!
Why The Self-Coaching Agenda Works
It’s fast and it’s powerful.
After we review the questions, we each typically feel REALLY clear about our next steps for the day or the week, we’re able to talk further about anything that’s worrying us, blocking us or holding us back, and we can also help or just empathize with the other person’s workload and work/life STUFF.
If you have a meeting that’s getting you nowhere, start by setting a fixed time, and identifying a meeting purpose.
Then, if you’re ready to shake things up, consider the powerful questions you could be asking yourself to achieve your meeting purpose.
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Stay tuned for additional posts in the ‘Self-Coaching Tool’ series…
Do you have a conference, gala, fundraiser, or strategic meeting on the horizon? It’s not too late to get help with your fall or winter event! Contact Kennedy Events for a free consultation.