What Really Matters?

A Sneak Peek Behind the Scenes of Board Meeting Preparation.

Taking a train into London during the rush hour, I overheard a conversation about today’s board meeting at Megacorp, and more specifically, what kind of sandwiches each board director requires. Huge attention to detail, many different requirements. The giver of the information knew everything there was to know, she had clearly done this many times before, and duly passed it on, name by name, sandwich by sandwich. Without missing a beat.

Joe: Cheese and Pickle. Debbie: Ham. Peter: Prawn….etc etc.

One of the Directors is called Nick, and the chat about him really caught my attention. Apparently he doesn’t like lettuce, and if you get him a sandwich with lettuce in it, he really complains about it. Really complains.

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/6SKkC9


Poor Nick, I really feel for that guy. Fancy going to all the trouble of being paid to attend your own board meeting, only to find that someone might bring you lunch with *shudder* lettuce in it. Imagine that happening. Imagine the humility of having to pick the lettuce out in front of your fellow Directors, you’d lose all respect, wouldn’t you? No wonder he really complains.

I get off the train at this point and leave all the high level stuff behind me. Whilst it was great to get a brief insight into the strategic planning behind a board meeting, I confess things were getting too exciting for a mere worker like me.

Before my attention drifted to what sandwich I might want for my own lunch (note to self, I need to recruit a sandwich advisor), two thoughts flashed across my mind. The first was this: If the board’s sandwich requirements are so utterly predictable, what might that tell us about the rest of the meeting? Board meeting? More like bored meeting. And second, I can’t help but feel that the world might be a better place if once in a while, we told people like Nick to go and get the sandwiches.

I first published a version of this post on Medium back in 2015. I was inspired to revisit it after reading this excellent piece titled Minutes, Meetings and Minutiae, by Gemma Dale, which challenges that persistent behaviour whereby women are so often expected to take the minutes, get the sandwiches, etc.

Creative Leadership – No Agenda


Together beats apart. Flow beats worklife balance. Productive beats busy. Work is an art form. Connection gives us meaning, conversations are the bond.

Those words you’ve just read, they’re my Twitter bio, and much more besides.

Credo: A statement of the beliefs and aims which guide someone’s actions

In the past few days I’ve been superbly fortunate to be working right across my credo. I’ve been involved in a couple of fantastic workshops, an excellent Facilitation Jam and a series of conversations – all of which have added huge value to our work. There have been many differences in this series of events, and some common threads too. Something that all my recent work has had in common is that is has no agenda. I’ve had a rough idea what each piece of work is about, plus a good sense of start, finish and break times, and from a structure perspective, that’s about it. What requirements and opportunities are created when working with no agenda? Here are a few things I’ve observed.


Everything starts with trust. Trust that we are looking out for one another, trust in what little process there is, and trust that something interesting and useful will emerge. Uncertainty is often created when working in this emergent way, so how do we establish that sense of trust with no agenda?


This isn’t a rose tinted blog post, so let’s recognise and find a way to work with, the inherent uncertainty that comes with open frameworks. Some of this recent work has relied very heavily on contracting – agreeing how we are going to work and what we need for ourselves and each other. At times, this contracting process has been quite protracted, and that’s because we took the approach that working out how we are going to be and what we need are the essence of work. Sorting this out takes as long as it takes, which is fine, until you constrain that vital conversation with an agenda.


A strong common thread in my current work is humour. I’ve laughed a lot in recent days. A few weeks ago when working with Neil Morrison in Louisiana, he suggested that for our work together (we co presented at the state HR conference) to succeed, it needed some humour. Judging by the reaction we got – Neil was right. When I ask people ‘How do you want to be in our work today?’, they often request fun as part of the atmospheric mix. I can’t recall anyone ever asking for dull and miserable. I am serious about my work, and I’m sure you are too. And I think we can be serious with our intent and allow humour in as a part of that. Not always, sure – but then I’m not saying that working with no agenda is always the right thing to do, far from it.


Good work is very often iterative and it emerges through a series of steps, one forward two back, two forward one back. Earlier this week I benefitted hugely from a phone call with someone who listened as I sketched out the flow of a talk and workshop I’m running next week. This flow has a few anchor points and a lot of space in between those points. As a direct result of describing my loose sketch over the phone, it became clear that something wasn’t quite right. I’ve since made a couple of tweaks and I now have an interesting mix of sequence and looseness to play with, derived from a check in call, a call with no agenda.

Freedom of Movement

When you work with no agenda, it becomes easier to work without some other mechanisms too. Loosening the corporate shackles a little can be hugely beneficial. No agenda = no slideware, or at least a heavy reduction in them. A result of this is that we are no longer tied to staring at the wall feigning interest while Bert does his bit before I do mine. Some of our current work has been done outside, and at times, people have come and gone according to their needs and wants, the often slavish obligation to stay until the bitter end has been alleviated.

Collaboration and CoCreation

The past few days have been highly collaborative, highly cocreative. There is a real sense of doing work with each other, not to each other. Expertise and experience in these environments feels self selecting rather than preordained. There is a sense of improvising, of taking an idea and building on it through an often random series of exchanges.


There is no right or wrong way to work, there are right and wrong ways. Working with no agenda all the time is as wrong as working with one all the time, yet in my experience we default to the latter. The world of work exhorts creativity, collaboration, community and even, *shudder*…engagement. But how often do we generously invite people in, and generously give them the much needed permission to cocreate, converse and at times of course, get it wrong? From experience, I think the answer is – not often enough. So why not try a few meetings with no agenda beyond the start and finish time. Maybe start by exploring what’s important right now and just see where that takes you.


Thanks to Julian Stodd, everyone I met through him last week and the crew at Seasalt Learning. Thanks to team Facilitation Jam – you rock. Thanks to Beth and Jas, and to Stephanie, Joe and Heather. Thanks to Carole. I think that’s everyone? Oh sorry, I’ve missed you out, haven’t I? Thank you too.

Back to Back Meetings

Back to back meetings

Back to back meetings. Oh joy. Most people appreciate that back to back meetings and long meetings are a great way to kill productivity and boost terrible decision making, yet in a culture of presenteeism and busyness they not only survive, they thrive. For example, I recently spotted an online exasperation when someone found out they were booked in for back to back meetings from 8am until midnight. I agree this is an extreme example but how anyone – even the brightest spark – can be expected to be capable of good performance and sound judgment after that lot is anyone’s guess. Yet it goes on, a lot.

Important Stuff

‘We’ve got loads of important stuff to discuss.’ Really? Well good for you – and if it is that important then do your stuff some justice and make time to deal with it properly. You don’t cram a good meal chock full of too many courses then try and wolf it down in double quick time, that way lies indigestion and worse. So why treat your important work any differently? I’ve never understood the logic behind the maths of ‘this stuff matters so let’s rush it.’

Time Travel and A Tactic for Having Better Meetings

I was giving a talk at Louisiana SHRM conference a few weeks back when the subject of time travel came up. I suggested an extremely simple tactic that is often cited as a way for having more effective meetings. Why use this tactic? Well as HR leaders, in fact leaders of any kind, you help to influence and shape culture through leading by example. Here’s a two minute clip from the talk complete with a free technical blooper for your enjoyment.

I’ve got some important meetings later today, including a catch up with Joe Gerstandt and an interview with Jo Dodds on Engage for Success radio. I’ve planned in a gap between these two sessions so I can devote my time and effort to each one separately. In the meantime, seeing as it is such a nice day, I’m going to practice the flexible working message to the max and indulge in a short mountain bike ride. Right now.

Have an excellent day.