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Have you ever sat in meeting after meeting wondering why you’re there?

Have you ever organized a meeting only to find the meeting invite forwarded to 15 people after you initially sent it out?

Are you reading this article as a distraction to a meeting you’re in right now because you’re not sure it applies to your work? That’s ok — we won’t tell anyone.

Remote work has worsened this problem because it’s easier to add people to a virtual meeting than to ask people to come to a conference room. Maybe that’s why so many executives want their staff to come back to work, so it’s not as easy to get sucked into meetings… Nah.

Fortunately, some professions that have to collaborate because of their work have figured out some ways to make their collaboration more effective. There are some things we can learn from them.

How surgeons start a procedure

Brian “Ponch” Rivera, Agile Leadership Coach, Founder and CEO of AGLX Consulting, tells the story about the time he shadowed a surgeon during an operation.

When the surgeon entered the operating theater, she looked around at all the people gathered in the room in their surgical scrubs and masks. She then introduced herself and explained her intentions, “Hi, I’m Dr. Washington. My intent is to perform an open reduction internal fixation to address the Lisfranc injury in this patient’s left foot.”

She then asked everyone else in the room to introduce themselves and explain what they were there to do. For example, when it was the anesthesiologist’s turn, he said, “Hi, I’m Dr. Wilson, and I’m here to make sure that the patient stays sedated.”

Everyone in the room introduced themselves, even Ponch, who was there to watch the procedure and see how the surgical team operated. (Pardon the pun) “I’m Brian Rivera, and I have no job here except to observe.”

Establishing clarity

The surgeon used this technique to communicate explicitly what the surgical team was there to do and to establish clarity around why each person was there.

It’s possible that the people in the room that day had not worked together on a procedure before, so the surgeon was making sure that everyone knew who everyone else was and what role they were playing in the operation. Even if they had worked together before, with all of them in surgical scrubs and masks it’s helpful to identify who everyone was.

The surgeon, by stating the procedure she intended to do, was also confirming that the procedure she thought she was doing was the correct procedure. It’s a way to ensure she didn’t start cutting on the patient’s right foot or attempt some completely different procedure.

The power of a shared mental model

The technique is an example of a shared mental model characteristic of high-performing teams. Even though this group of people had not worked together before, they knew they’d have to introduce themselves and what job they were fulfilling. This routine is part of the culture at the hospital. This is also the same technique used by the US Navy Seals and aircraft pilots.

The technique is so powerful that Ponch could even pick up on the shared mental model and take part in it appropriately. He watched the behavior of everyone else in the room. Because the behavior was consistent, he could imitate it and provide the most helpful information to everyone in the room.

Try this at your next meeting

While your meetings are not as critical to life and death as a surgical procedure, you can still use this technique to improve the effectiveness of your sessions.

Start the next meeting you organized by introducing yourself and what your intent for the meeting is. Be sure to state clearly why you’re in the meeting and what you intend to accomplish.

Then ask everyone else attending the meeting to do the same. Chances are you’re going to run across some people who aren’t sure why they are there and will say so.

If they are someone you invited, this gives you a chance to clarify where they can add value.

If people invited after the fact don’t know why they are there, you can give them the option to leave the meeting, which most of the time people will appreciate.

The benefit of this technique is that you establish clarity on who everyone is and why they are at the meeting. You may also trim the size of the sessions down to those who have an explicit role in the discussion, which benefits everyone.

Start all your meetings with these introductions, and when you’ve built up enough courage, you may even suggest it in those you didn’t organize.

Once people see meetings start with introductions of this sort, they’ll start picking up the technique, and it will become a common practice in your organization.

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