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The One Takeaway: Flipping Meetings at UNC-Chapel Hill

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My last event for 2013 was the one held closest to home. The leadership team in the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill invited me to facilitate their annual retreat. Of course, I had to say yes! Even though they cheer for the wrong team (Go Wolfpack!), I enjoy working with them and learning more about what they do. So, let’s get down to business…

For this retreat, the team wanted to focus specifically on how to FLIP their staff meetings.

FLIP staff meetings? Can you do that?

Absolutely!

For those of you who follow my work, you know that I’ve been on a mission to expand the concept of “flipping” beyond the scope of the classroom. Once you embrace the concept of the FLIP, it’s easy to see how it can be applied to any type of environment. (In fact, I applied the FLIP to this retreat!)

In classic FLIP fashion, the team members completed tasks prior to attending the retreat. They watched a video and participated in individual phone meetings with me to prepare for the activities and assignments. Once they arrived to the meeting, they quickly jumped in and analyzed their current meetings using a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).

This was the first time I applied the SWOT analysis specifically to a group’s meeting structure. It was a fascinating process that revealed differences in terminology and assumptions. It also highlighted the fact that the members of this team are all on the same page. Their answers were similar, reinforcing the fact that they know what they do well, they share the same values, and they know where they want to go from here.

After the SWOT analysis discussion, we moved into exploring the framework of what it means to FLIP a meeting. We compared the traditional “round robin” style meeting to a flipped meeting, and we discussed the differences between the two formats. At some point during this discussion, the team members noticed that although their group meetings were traditional “information dump” sessions, their one-on-one meetings with their supervisor are actually flipped. This was an “ah ha!” moment for all of us. And this is The One Takeaway for this event.

Since I started Flip It Consulting two and a half years ago, I have always wondered if I could actually teach others how to FLIP their meetings. People have so many negative reactions to and assumptions about meetings. Meetings waste time. Meetings are boring. Meetings are unproductive. “If it weren’t for meetings, I could actually get my work done.” I’m sure you’ve felt the same way. I have too. But meetings can be productive. They can be engaging. They can be collaborative. They can be all of these things if you FLIP them.

As soon as the team made the connection between their experience in their one-on-one meetings to the FLIP, I knew they would be able to do this. In their one-on-one meetings, they focus on solving problems, asking questions, and getting feedback. The individual meetings are two-way conversations, not just a one way stream of communication (hmmm…that sounds familiar).

Their one-on-one meetings allow for depth, not breadth. By this, I mean they focus in on one or two ideas as they explore possibilities, ask questions, and address issues or concerns. Everyone in the room agreed that those types of interactions are more productive. Now, I realize you could argue that these one-on-one meetings work this way because it’s an individualized conversation. True. But, why can’t we harness that same focus and energy and apply it to staff meetings?

Much of the current conversation around flipped environments relates to flipping a classroom. But, we can apply the framework to the meeting environment just as easily. Think about it for a moment. Flipped classes are learner-centered. Flipped meetings are employee-centered. In flipped classes, learners are actively engaged with each other and with the material. In flipped meetings, employees are interacting with each other and with the tasks related to their jobs. In flipped classes, the instructor takes on the role of “guide on the side” or facilitator. In flipped meetings, the supervisor could do the same. Rather than being a lecturer or talking head, instructors in classes and leaders of meetings can design the environment around tasks, challenges, or problems that can best be addressed by engaging the whole group of participants.

The key to a flipped meeting is to find moments of intersection between employees’ jobs where everyone can benefit from the challenge of helping another colleague think through a problem or offer feedback in real time. A staff meeting or team meeting is the perfect time to leverage the expertise, strengths, and talents of the individuals who were hired to do these jobs. Why wouldn’t we want to capitalize on that when they’re all together in one space?

Now, there’s an important point to keep in mind when thinking about flipped meetings: How strong is the team? I probably wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to facilitate this retreat if the team wasn’t already a high performing group because that’s just not the type of facilitator I am. I enjoy working with groups who see the possibilities and are ready to challenge themselves to try something new.

This team didn’t need someone to come in and “fix” internal problems. They didn’t show me any evidence of conflicts or dysfunction among the team members. They already knew each others’ work patterns, leadership styles, and personalities. They were ready to move in this direction together which will allow them to relate to each other and to their work in different ways. And that’s why I think they’ll be successful with this new approach. (Well, that, and they gave me chocolate from Southern Season. Maybe I’ll forgive them for pulling for the wrong team!)

I’m interested in hearing from you…What do you think about flipped meetings? Is it something your group or team could try? Give it a try in one meeting and let me know how it goes!

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