Hard Truths About the Meeting After the Meeting | MIT Sloane Management Review

Leaders must encourage respectful debate during meetings and use related strategies to avoid toxic post-meeting dynamics.

A leader attempting to quash the meeting after the meeting would be like a coach trying to stop fans from opining, snarking, or rejoicing after a big game. The hard truth: Win or lose, there will be post-meeting speculations, opinions, and queries. As Dave Kievet, CEO of the Boldt Group, put it, “The meeting after the meeting is inevitable. The only question is whether you are going to participate in that conversation or not.” But leaders can minimize the mischief and mayhem that the meeting after the meeting can create, and positively influence the group’s ongoing dialogues about initiatives, performance, and work climate.

We’ve all experienced the meeting after the meeting — when several participants informally (and often spontaneously) carry on a candid, sensemaking conversation about the meeting they just attended. These unplanned gatherings tend to be freewheeling because participants perceive the stakes to be lower than speaking up during the formal meeting. People assume minimal reputational costs and diminished accountability. So tolerance for fuzzily formed opinions/arguments becomes heightened as they seek to frame or categorize the uncertainties and unstated sentiments inherent in any formal meeting.1 For instance, if the leader made an insensitive joke, participants may ponder whether it was designed to insult or was just a poor attempt to break the ice. Checking in with others afterward may help people make sense of the unspoken and perhaps unintended motive for the leader’s remark.

Leaders must understand that the meeting after the meeting often generates moments of clarification, grousing, or pushback. In turn, these outcomes cultivate workplace climates ranging from supportive to toxic, as in these three examples:

  • Sharing a backstory on a new initiative may produce enough clarity that others in the informal post-meeting meeting get reassured and on board. On the flip side, attacking a person’s character, questioning someone’s motives, or spreading rumors may bring clarity to some people but undermine workplace culture.
  • In the military, grousing, often punctuated with a few choice expletives, frequently enhances team solidarity. However, grousing taken to the extreme can gnaw away at the working environment by legitimizing constant grumbling and persistent disenchantment while escalating levels of disengagement.
  • In some cases, the search for clarity and a tolerance for grousing evolve into a steady stream of pushback.
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Source: Hard Truths About the Meeting After the Meeting

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