Gather with a Bold, Sharp Purpose

The first step to convening people meaningfully: committing to a bold, sharp purpose. ~Priya Parker

As we approached 5pm, I was grappling with how to closeout a 4-hour meeting last week with some “meat.” It felt as though this leadership team had spent a great deal of time talking and not much time deciding.

The CEO of this organization and I don’t share the same behavioral profile, and that’s a good thing. This was reflected in our differing desired outcomes. I learned after the meeting that he felt like the meeting was successful because his outcome was to see this relatively new team interact and engage with one another. Whereas, my desired outcome was to draw conclusions and determine future actions; which is my definition of “meat.”

While we both had desired outcomes, we hadn’t committed to a bold, sharp purpose.

Bold, Sharp Purpose: Make it Disputable

Priya Parker, author of Why We Gather, highly recommends that in order to have a bold, sharp purpose, it should be disputable.

This begins by really examining why a group is gathering. Ask why enough times until you reach a belief or value. You’ll know you’ve found a disputable purpose because it will stick its neck out a little bit, or take a stand. It might unsettle some participants. It will refuse to be everything to everybody.

As Parker states: “Specificity is a crucial ingredient. The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses. Specificity sharpens the gathering because people can see themselves in it.”

Bold, Sharp Purpose: Should be a Decision Filter

Again from Parker: “The disputable purpose will become a decision filter. It will immediately help you to make choices.”

So, how would I have changed my meeting last week? For this large nonprofit, the purpose was to wrestle with what administrative functions should be centralized and what should be decentralized. That might sound like an acceptable purpose, maybe it’s specific, but it’s not disputable.

Going into this meeting I was confident that this team was going to lean towards most everything being centralized. Therefore, a more disputable purpose would have been: As we position ourselves for growth, what will be our criteria or indicators to know when an administrative function should be decentralized. This purpose is assuming that decentralized administrative functions are appropriate and even a good strategy. With this group, that would have been “taking a stand” and “sticking its neck out a little bit.” It would have been disputable.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and we would all go back and change how we approached various meetings. In the future, take more time to really dig deep and determine why you are gathering. Keep asking until you hit some values or beliefs and create a disputable purpose. Convene people meaningfully and keep leading with bold grace.

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