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Brown, B. (Host). (2021, May 24). Brené with Priya Parker: A Meeting Makeover. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast Network. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-priya-parker-a-meeting-makeover/
Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown and this is Dare to Lead. Before we jump into part two of my conversation with Priya, I want to share some information about the summer, and I want to say, “Woot, woot! Congratulations to all of us!” The Dare to Lead podcast won the Webby Award for best business podcast. You have no idea how many people touch this thing in our organization, it’s a lot and it is a ton of work. So I want to say thank you to everyone on my team, I want to say thank you to the folks at Spotify, thank you to the folks at Parcast, to the Suffers for taking us to the good times, to Ben and Brian. And a special shout out to Laura and Cookie on our team who just bust their ass everyday to get this podcast where it needs to be. And I want to also say to all of you who are walking and stumbling alongside us on this Dare to Lead path, there’d be no podcast without you. We put the conversation out into the world and then y’all grab it and bring it in close to your hearts, and we talk about it, and we disagree and agree in social media, and I’m so grateful. So thank you to the Webby Awards for recognizing the Dare to Lead podcast as the best business podcast. Super grateful.
BB: Okay, a couple of announcements. I’m taking some time off this summer. I’m going to take a little vacay time with my family, celebrate my daughter graduating from college, and then I’m coming back and finishing up some brand new research and finishing a new book that’s going to be coming out late this year. So Dare to Lead‘s going to be taking off from May 31st to July 5th. We’re going to return on July 12th with a two-part solo series called, The Hardest Feedback I’ve Ever Received, and it’s going to be me talking about the hardest feedback I’ve ever received, but I may invite… I’m looking at my sister who’s sitting here. [chuckle] What do you…
Barrett Guillen: No, thanks.
BB: I may invite people that I work with to share their experiences of getting hard feedback. Barrett’s just like, she’s not even pretending like I’m here. If you’re not looking at me, I can still see you.
BG: Okay. [chuckle]
BB: Unlocking Us is going to be taking off from June 2nd to June 16th, we’re going to return on June 23rd with a five-part summer series that I’ll be doing with my sisters. Did you hear that part?
BB: Both Ashley and Barrett on The Gifts of Imperfection. And I’ll tell you the short summer breaks are going to be followed by a long list of incredible conversations we have planned for the rest of 2021.
BB: Alright, speaking of vulnerable, this is part two of a series on Returning to Gathering that I’m doing with the incredible, amazing, one of our favorite people, Priya Parker, where I talk about a meeting that isn’t quite working how we intended. I actually gathered feedback from everyone that attends the meeting in our organization, and it was tough and honest and brave, just like our people are tough and honest and brave here, and we have a big time feedback culture, so we ask and they tell us and they ask and we tell them, and it’s pretty incredible. But Priya’s going to do one of her famous meeting makeovers in real time. I have some very tough learnings that you will be cringing as they unfold as you’re listening. So welcome to Dare to Lead. I’m glad you’re here.
BB: So before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about Priya Parker. She is… I think she helps the world take a deeper look at how all of us can create collective meaning in modern life one gathering at a time. If you’re a leader, that means one meeting at a time. She is a master facilitator, a strategic advisor, the acclaimed author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. Oh, God, that book is so good. She is executive producer and host of the New York Times podcast, Together Apart. She has spent 15 years helping leaders and communities have complicated conversations about community and identity and vision at moments of transition. She is trained in the field of conflict resolution, and she has worked on race relations on American college campuses, on peace processes in the Arab world, Southern Africa, and India, and she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her two kids. Welcome back, Priya Parker.
BB: Okay, Priya, welcome back.
Priya Parker: I’m here, I’m ready. How’re you feeling?
BB: I’m ready for my meeting makeover.
PP: Okay. [chuckle]
BB: I think I’m ready for my… I don’t know. I’m feeling… Honestly, no jokes aside, I’m anxious a little bit. I’m anxious and curious. That would be my two-word check-in, anxious and curious. What’s your two-word check-in?
PP: Excited and interested.
BB: Okay, so where do we start? This is the meeting makeover, I’ve never done one before, but I have to say, if I had the choice between a hair and makeup makeover or a meeting makeover, I would take the meeting makeover seven days a week.
PP: Amazing, amazing. Me too, and at some level, what I’d love to do is hear which meeting you’ve chosen for us to discuss today and to rethink and to give it a makeover. And I think what’s interesting, and why I’m really excited to have this conversation with you is because we’re also at this moment all in a meta-makeover. We are in this moment as we’re re-emerging, thinking about remaking how we gather, and how we gather is essential to most things. And so we have these three phases in this makeover moment, we have all of the ways we gathered pre-pandemic where we can actually look back and say, “Do we still want to do that? Was that working in the first place? What do we want to keep? What do we want to bring back? What do we want to race towards and we’ve missed so much?” And then we have this last 12 to 14 months, which is a moment of a lot of invention for many of us around gathering.
PP: And so what have we learned also in this moment in time of the pandemic that we want to bring and keep and also never do again? And then this new moment of hybrid gatherings and re-entry to ask what do we want to invent? And so I want to just frame my conversation with you that that’s kind of how I’m thinking about this, and then let’s just hear the meeting and I’m just going to ask you a bunch of questions, it’s really a conversation between the two of us, and I’m going to poke around, almost like I’m lifting up a car and looking under the hood and see what your pain points are and how you want to think about rethinking this meeting.
BB: Okay, I think I’m ready. And how would you feel about me inviting Barrett to join us? She runs this meeting that I want to talk about and I think she’ll have some insight that I don’t have.
PP: I think that’s amazing. That’s brilliant.
BB: Then say hi, Barrett.
BG: Hi, Barrett.
BB: Barrett’s like, “Why’d you drag me out? No.” So, just for those of you listening, Barrett and I have worked together for how long? Eleven years? About 10 years, kind of the first person to work with me. Her current title is Chief of Staff. I also know her as my little sister.
BG: [laughter] No.
BB: Yeah, but don’t worry, for those of y’all going, “Oh, my God, that can’t ever work.” We do lots of therapy. We’re set.
PP: Well, it’s a family business.
BB: In many ways, yes, yes.
PP: How cool.
BB: Yeah, because Steve works with us sometimes, and then I have another sister who’s Barrett’s identical twin who is a therapist, and she leads our internship program in our Daring Way community, so yeah.
PP: Wow! How powerful. It’s so nice to meet you.
BG: Nice to meet you too.
BB: Okay, I want to take on this meeting that we call Campfire, and how long have we been having Campfire?
BG: I would say we’ve been having Campfire for maybe the last nine months or a year.
BB: Okay. Originally put together, it was born out of a frustration or a concern that all of the context and connective tissue, or a lot of it, I hold. So if we have five or six different verticals, I know what they’re all doing, I know why, I know not at the 5000 or 10,000 but at the 30,000 foot level how they’re all connected, I understand how their connection is moving us forward as an organization, but I hold all of that. And so…
BG: In your head.
BB: In my… Oh, my God. Only in my head.
PP: God. Barrett, I’m so sorry.
BB: That’s… Me too.
BG: Apology accepted.
BB: That’s rough. That’s one of the things we work on here that when we apologize we mean it and when we receive it, we accept it, we never say, “That’s okay.” But then every time anyone does that, I’m like, “Damn, that hurt.”
PP: Calling Harriet Lerner. Calling Harriet Lerner.
BB: Calling Harriet Lerner. Dang you, Harriet. Yeah, just a funny aside, the funniest thing that you’ll ever see is my kids. So when my son was like 13, I got really impatient and I came back in his room and said, “Hey, I just want to circle back. I don’t like how I showed up during that conversation, I got anxious and fearful, I apologize.” And he put his head down and goes, “Well, I accept your apology and I appreciate you working on that.” I was like, “What the fuck.” I was like, “You’re grounded!”
BB: I was like, “Oh, my God. What’s happening?” I was like… I just left with my head down. I was like, “Thank you.”
PP: That’s amazing.
BB: And that’s what we do, right?
PP: That’s what we do. That’s what we try to do.
BB: That’s what we try to do. So I do hold all the context in my head. So let me just be totally honest, let’s just… Can we just put it all out there? She gave me a silent thumbs up. I hold it all in my head, it’s one of my super powers. Not holding it in my head but seeing connections between the seemingly unconnectable. I don’t have the time or patience to share it and explain it all, and I’m frustrated when people don’t get it, and I don’t want to be a leader who says, “Just do it, it’ll make sense later.” And I don’t say that but I think that, that would be my thought bubble.
PP: And so just to be really clear, when we are talking about this, this is your company?
PP: And what is it called?
BB: Brené Brown Education and Research Group.
PP: And how many employees are we talking?
BB: I think between 25 and 30.
PP: Okay. We were laughing earlier like when someone’s going to pull over the car and listen to what we’re talking about, when there’s like a third of your listeners that I promise you is breaking out into hives when they hear about you having everything in your head and just wanting to keep it there, I can feel a third of your listeners blowing into a paper bag.
BB: Yeah! No.
PP: This is stressing them out.
BB: And it’s real, and I’ll tell you what really hurt me a little bit, is the only way I can say it, is that I was listening to a podcast between Tim Ferriss and Daniel Ek who is the CEO of Spotify, and he was talking about his job as the CEO of Spotify really at this point in the scaling and the growth of the company being about sharing and helping people understand full context. And I thought that was really powerful and right and yet… I don’t know what happens, I don’t know why it’s so hard. I think it’s because it’s like when my editor says seven books and my editor still says, “Look, Brené, in one paragraph, you go from A to Z. I need you to hold my hand and walk me through the other 24 letters in the alphabet. How did you get here?” And I’m always like, “Ugh!” And it’s not because I think that I know things that other people don’t know, it’s because it feels so laborious and hard, and I am impatient. I’m an impatient person.
PP: I want to hear more about this meeting and just to track our conversation… So I define a gathering as any time three or more people come together for a purpose with a beginning, middle, and end. It ends, it’s a moment in time, and part of what we’re starting to get into here is, it seems like, “Oh, it’s just this meeting,” but actually… And as our conversation unfolds, we’re going to actually hear some of the core assumptions around how knowledge is transferred. Who needs to know what? How do you want to spend your time? What is this epicenter of the DNA of this organization? How do you allocate people’s times in ways that are both life-giving and help an organization move? And when there’s inefficient trade-offs, how are you grounding them in your values? And I’ll talk more about that. But this is great so let’s keep going.
BB: Yikes! I’m scared of you.
PP: So tell me about this meeting. It sounds like it was a pandemic invention. It started nine or 10 months ago. Is that true?
BB: Was it?
BG: I’m trying to think too. I don’t think we did it before the pandemic. No.
BB: No, and I don’t know that we were trying to solve a pandemic-borne problem, but I think just timing-wise, it did happen during the pandemic.
PP: And is your team virtual? Remote?
BB: Yes. I think maybe 60% of us are in Houston, and then we’re all over.
PP: Okay, so sketch out this meeting for me, why did it start? What was the original purpose? How does it work? And what are you trying to make over?
BB: So I’ll take a stab at it and you fill in the blanks.
BB: Okay. I think what we were trying to do is the Roundup team is the most senior leadership team, and they’re people that I’ve worked with for a very, very long time. Our CFO and I waited tables together 30 years ago, and then he got his MBA and was a CFO in a company in Austin, but has always been a confidant; so I have this very close leadership team. And then we’ve got a level of directors and senior directors who lead teams, most of them lead teams, not all, but most of them. And so we thought one way that we could help infuse what we call the five Cs through our culture is to bring these folks together and share what’s going on. And so the five Cs are connective tissue, color, context, cost, and consequence. And this emerged from my research on leadership about how when we delegate or make decisions, we should always be thinking about the five Cs: What is more of the context? What’s the connective tissue to other things going on that you may not have optics on? Can you color it in for me a little bit, give me some more nuance? And then what is the cost of doing it or not doing it? And what’s the consequence of doing it or not doing it?
BB: And so we really believe in these five Cs, and I teach them in, ironically, in the leadership work I do. And I’m good at them, I see everything through that. Because ultimately, when it comes down to it, really, I’m a better creator than I am manager.
PP: That’s an important sentence. If we were in a room right now and I was putting a Brené Brown famous Post-it up on the wall, “I’m a better creator than I am a manager.” That’s just good data.
BB: And would you agree with it?
BG: I totally, yes, I agree.
BB: And so we thought, “Well, let’s bring together this group of people,” because we always want to try to do the fewest number of meetings necessary to achieve our goals, and let’s bring these folks in that they can share what they’re doing, everyone can have optics on what’s going on across every shared service across every vertical, and these are fancy names, the verticals, but they’re like global, Dare to Lead podcast, Unlocking Us podcast, Dare to Lead engagements that I do, speaking and media.
BG: Facilitator communities.
BB: Facilitator communities, and then shared services are diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, finance, HR, and contracts.
BG: Creative and content.
BG: Operations. Yeah.
BB: Right, and so everyone that leads one of these things that goes down or goes across would be in it. So that was the goal. What would you add?
BG: Yeah, and I think it was also to make sure that this was the right team to understand, “Hey, I’m working on this, how will it affect your team? What do you need to be looking forward coming your direction? Or ask questions about how is operations going to support something going on in the facilitator community, what they might need? And so it was really just the five Cs and how we’re working together, and what to expect from each other.
PP: And so when you originally set it up, it’s roughly 30, 26, 30 people on a Zoom?
BG: Well, the Campfire meeting is just the directors and senior directors, so there’s 12 of us, 11 or 12.
BG: Plus Roundup is in there also.
BB: But I’m not.
PP: So in the clearest way possible, what would you say that the purpose of… You call it Campfire?
PP: What the purpose of the Campfire meeting is?
BB: It’s a really good question because in preparation for my meeting makeover, I went to everyone who attends Campfire and asked, “What would you like to get from the meeting? What are the pain points for you? What’s working?
PP: Wow, Brené!
BB: I know.
PP: No homework.
BB: I know. Call me a researcher. This is the part I like to do. Everybody said, every single person I think, but there maybe one exception, said the pain point was, “I’m not clear on what the purpose or intention is of this meeting.” Oh, painful.
PP: Beautiful. And underneath that, what do you hear them saying?
BB: “I don’t think y’all know why we’re in this meeting,” is what I hear them saying.
BB: What do you think’s underneath it?
BG: Yeah, I think that they’re not sure what to share, they’re not sure what to bring. How weedsy thing should get? How strategic things should be? Are we somewhere in the middle? And I think that we have people, different groups coming to the meeting with weedsy agenda items and strategy, so I could see why we’re all lost.
BB: And that’s another thing. You know what? This is going to be a sad, sad meeting makeover for Brené. I’m going to be sad because a couple of the people that attend this or in these positions have to bring weedsy, weedsy questions that don’t have anything to do with anyone else in that meeting because of the lack of time they have with Roundup, who are the only people that can remove barriers for them.
PP: And why are you not in it?
BB: I’ve been thinking about that in preparation. So I think something’s got to change because there are two meetings, there’s one all hands meeting we call BBEARG at the Bar, because we have a big kitchen. I always need to explain this because it’s not like BBEARG at the Bar, beer chaser or like that, but it’s called BBEARG at the Bar because we have a huge kitchen in our office in Houston, and it’s got this major bar that probably fits 20 bar stools underneath it, and we gather there when we’re in person. And so we continue BBEARG at the Bar through COVID, and that’s twice a week, and Tuesday is every team checks in, how’s everyone doing. Friday is more culture-focused and less strategy focused.
BG: We still do check-ins on Friday, but then we do a fun check-out question every Friday, where we’re always laughing or crying or whatever, but together doing something.
BB: Yeah, and this team is incredible. Ashley came up with this check-out question about a month ago, it was so beautiful, she said, “If we were all standing here at the bar talking, what is something that you would share that you haven’t shared because you didn’t think it was important enough to share in a meeting?”
PP: That is a brilliant question.
BB: Oh it was so… Yes, this is the therapist out of the three of us.
PP: She’s creating a mechanism to bring in the informal…
PP: In a digital context that tends to be formal, which is like, “This shouldn’t rise to the level of taking everybody’s group attention, so I’m not going to say this.” And yet it’s actually that interstitching, those “throwaway comments” or the small, “Oh, I just got a root canal,” or, “I stubbed my toe,” or, “My daughter fell off the monkey bar,” whatever, it’s actually all of those tiny, tiny, interstitial throw-away comments that is what builds intimacy, trust, connection, a sense of multiple identities, and is one of the big losses in the pandemic time because when everybody’s on mute, you actually lose all of that interstitching thread, the jokes. And so, what a brilliant question. What do people share?
BB: I think someone shared that she and her wife had just closed on their first house, another person shared that they bought their first car. What other things did people share?
BG: Someone’s son was valedictorian graduating. College, what college they were going to go to, it’s all over the place, and it’s funny because that bar means so much to us because when we’re in person, one person will start going over, making their lunch, and then all of a sudden we’re all there. Some are standing, some are sitting, so we know a lot about each other’s life.
PP: And there’s an agency when you’re in the same room and you can literally drag a chair across the room and you can decide what height to place your body at, and frankly even to share your food. All of these different ways of having agency, we don’t think about this consciously, but all of the ways that when we are together, we can begin to move like an amoeba in and out has basically been stripped. And so part of what I hear you trying to create in some of these meetings is bringing back that psychological bar, at least in the Friday meeting, that’s not the Campfire meeting, right?
BB: No, BBEARG at the Bar is Tuesday and Friday.
PP: BBEARG at the Bar?
BB: Yeah, and then Campfire is on Mondays, and I have to say that I don’t attend any of these meetings, and I was thinking about why ahead and part of it is, when I was on the road every week, I was actually gone every Monday and Tuesday, those were huge travel days for me, so a lot of times I was on the road. The other thing is that, and I really want to dig into this because I know I see people cry, texting about this or talking about it in a lot of places. I don’t remember who did this, but someone did the difference between a manager’s calendar and a maker’s calendar, and I am responsible for creating almost all of the content we share. I write the captions, I write everything, and I still do all the social… I still do everything because I want to.
BB: And I do all the research and write the books, and so this year we have two books coming out, You are Your Best Thing, with Tarana Burke and then I’ve got a book coming out late this fall. So it takes me an hour, 90 minutes, to get in the zone to write, and if I have to pop out for a 30-minute meeting or an hour meeting, that day is gone for me.
PP: Completely. Completely.
BB: So it’s tough.
PP: And if you remember, I said put this Post-it on the wall, “I’m a better creator than I am manager.” I think part of this meeting, so let’s get into the brass tacks of the meeting, but part of this meeting is this deep sacred question for each of us, which is, “How do I spend my time? And who decides?” And for you, [chuckle] for you at the center of an organization that is so deeply based on you as an individual, your creation, your research, your persona, there’s an epicenter of creation that’s coming out of you, who is a human being, creative person that understands what you actually need to have space to create, to make, to be a whole enough person to be able to then show up in the ways that you need to, and then there’s this need within the organization as well, to have a leader.
PP: And right now it sounds like you are both the creator and the leader, and there’s elements of that that threaten each of those identities from being successful.
BB: Barrett’s shaking her head yes and now looking down and…
BG: I’m writing down.
BB: Yeah, no. You’re shaking your head yes, I saw you, didn’t you?
BG: I did, yes.
BB: Oh. Defiantly, just being like, “Yes, I did.” And I think it’s because she knows what I’m thinking, because she knows me really well. I think, “No, it’s not that hard. I can do both.” But yes, it’s true, there’s…
BG: Yes, it’s true.
PP: Barrett, double quick. Color, color. Context, color.
BG: No, I think it’s true. I think we created Campfire to help try to carry some of that, to help the senior directors help carry the five Cs across to the rest of the team. We’ve had a really successful example of a really large launch come out of Campfire, and when Brené asked those questions yesterday in Campfire, I think everyone mentioned it, and so it’s kind of like, my mind has been spinning about how do we embed what was so successful there into what we’re doing every week?
BB: It’s rare that you see, just as a researcher, I mean, to your point, Barrett, it’s rare that you see when you ask questions, “What would you like to get from Campfire? What’s working? What are the pain points?” It’s rare that the pain points saturate across all the data which they did. “We don’t understand the intention or the purpose of the meeting,” and it’s rare that what’s working, everybody gave the same example, which was our most recent book launch of You are Your Best Thing.
PP: Which was gorgeous, and I have a copy and it is profound as a book.
BB: Aw, thank you. And a ton of work. It was crashed. Tarana and I were both writing other books when she called me to see if we wanted to do it, and we put things aside and we crashed it through Penguin Random House, the contributors just showed up like passionate writers, but within the Campfire meeting, the project had leadership, and it was very purpose-driven, the You are Your Best Thing launch, everyone understood what we were growing toward, everyone understood that every single person involved there had a piece, they all said that that was what was working about it.
PP: I’m going to ask you a few more questions and then we’ll start digging in making over. Tell me currently how long is this meeting and why have you chosen that length? And broadly, what happens? Just give me a TikTok, if it’s 60 minutes, 90 minutes. How are you currently running it?
BG: Right now, it’s 60 minutes once a week. Basically, we have people submit agenda items on Monday, and then we put together an agenda and we have the meeting late Monday afternoon. We start with reviewing our KDAs; Key learnings, Decisions, and Action items from the previous meeting. And then we jump into our agenda items and pass it over to whoever submitted those agenda items to walk us through, ask the questions, and then we weigh in mostly Roundup weighs in to help answer questions. We rumble through options, and then other people will ask how it might impact their team, or what support can the creative and content team provide? And then we’ll go on to the next one.
PP: And this is once a week, so the morning of, you elicit an agenda from any of these 12 people?
PP: And if you get 12 agenda items, how do you decide which one to take? Or do you try to just get through as many as possible and then it goes over to the next week?
BG: We’ve never not gone through everything.
PP: So you just take it off like a list?
PP: And do you have any norms around how you want people or how people present the information? Or is it just however, they just say what they need to say and run it, how they want to run those five minutes?
BG: Say what they need to say and run it how they run it.
PP: Okay. So, a couple of thoughts. First is, I love that you’ve polled everybody because data is one of the most important things, we’re not just wondering what they’re thinking, we know what they’re thinking, and the fact that everybody is basically saying some version of “What is the purpose of this meeting?” is a wonderful…
BB: Yeah, and it’s coming in different ways. Let me give you some explicit about the pain points in the explicit language, so I’m not doing my thematic analysis and taking away people’s words, because I think it’d be helpful. So let me just run through.
BB: Campfire meetings I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones that are fully collaborative when we’re brainstorming an issue altogether, bringing our points of view from our individual functional expertise in the room. When we come together on issues to get approval of only a few people in the room, the meetings don’t feel as productive. I like the cadence. I love knowing what’s happening across the organization. Pain point clarity around what’s helpful or not helpful to share with the broader team; pain points, clear intention for the meeting, especially since we use BBEARG at the bar to focus on team updates. Pain points, what’s covered in Campfire has a big overlap with what’s covered in BBEARG at the Bar. A pain point is when there’s an extended focus around a topic that feels like it should be a one-on-one or a smaller group conversation. Pain point, clear intention for Campfire. Pain point, there’s no clear intention for me, and without stated intention, the content discussion can become both about individual specific items that could be addressed in a separate meeting with the individuals involved in the specific discretion rather than a venue for connective tissue. Pain points, what is the meeting intention? And it’s a hard time of day to bring your best thinking because it’s Monday late.
PP: Beautiful, beautiful. Okay, and let me ask you one more question, which is why did you call it Campfire?
BB: Because we’re from Texas. I don’t know…
BB: I don’t know. I don’t know. I think I saw it on NCIS one time.
BG: Yeah, I don’t think there’s a specific…
BB: No, I think one time I was watching NCIS, the boss was out of… And he’s like, “Okay, Campfire,” and then everyone rolled their chairs together and got together and they were like, “Okay.” There was nothing…
BG: And the leadership team is Roundup, and so Campfire was kind of there too. It’s bad when you asked the question. It’s like…
BB: We were going to call it The Ranch Gathering, but I don’t know. It feels… I don’t know. I think it’s just Texas, I don’t know. Jesus. Why’d you call it Campfire, Barrett?
PP: So first of all, I think it is so amazing that you’re sharing all of these details with all of us and being so vulnerable, it is awesome, you really walk your talk and I am deeply enjoying this. Let me almost give you a bunch of thoughts first and then we’ll start redesigning.
PP: Okay. So…
BB: Taking notes.
PP: First, names matter. And I ask “Why are you calling it Campfire?” in part because in any type of meeting or gathering, some names contain within them a social contract. What do I mean by that? In a Campfire, my assumption of a Campfire is everybody’s coming around, grabbing a chair at some level, it’s a more informal time, perhaps there’s some singing, perhaps there’s some… I mean, that may not even be true. Dinner party, you realize, okay, guest and you’re supposed to come and perhaps the social contract as a guest is like, “Be reasonably interesting.” Right?
PP: Hootenanny has a very specific form and term, brainstorming, all of these words are a form of signaling, a sense of purpose, but specifically good names help guests know what their roles should be in that meeting, and so…
BB: Hold on, hold on, I’ve got to write that down. Good names help guests understand what their role should be.
PP: Names within them contain social contracts. If this is a brainstorming or a workshop or a briefing or a focus group, those are words we’ve chosen that actually contain a lot of data to help people understand how to show up to be successful. And what I hear in the feedback that you’re getting is that people don’t know how to show up to be successful because they’re not sure what the purpose is. And so it goes from weeds and very specific agenda items that could actually be taken care of by a one-on one, all the way up to something like the book launch that was clearly exciting and worthy of the entire groups’ talent. And so one thing is just name, but I think we should think about the name and Campfire, the danger of a word like Campfire is it’s kind of cute and fun and evokes a feeling that I think is a nice feeling. I just don’t know if it’s accurate for what your need is, and you can decide…
BB: Whoo! Let me think about this, Priya. As a grounded theory researcher, my whole career is built on a grounded theory idea that you need to name things in ways so people understand. I’m very careful about words. So for the example rumble in our organization, if someone says, “Hey, can we meet at 4:00 o’clock? We need to rumble about this decision around these contracts.” Everyone knows that that is an indicator light that means bring your point of view, be read up and briefed on what’s happening and it could get uncomfortable, we’re going to stick with it until we have a good sense of what’s happening. Everybody knows what that means. Circle back, that means I need to follow up on something that didn’t feel right on my part or on your part, I need to circle back with you. So we use words so intentionally, and the Campfire thing was really unintentional. Would you agree?
PP: And was like, how’d that one slipped through the cracks? But I think part of the danger of a powerful word is that it can almost subsidize the feeling that we get hearing Campfire, can subsidize the little niggle in the back of our head being like, “Well, what is the purpose of this? And how do I show up to a Campfire?” And I don’t know if this is the right analogy for what the meeting is. So that’s just a first thought, which is, “Let’s think about the name.” Then number two, what I hear in what the guests are saying and what the team is saying is that they’re not sure how to show up and what level of problem or content to bring. And then the third is that the mechanism for you to then decide the agenda is basically crowdsourced, which in some contexts, we think of that as generous. It’s like the equivalent of an unconference, you’re spreading out, you’re letting the team decide the agenda, but actually if the purpose of the meeting isn’t tightly defined, it’s actually just sloppy because you’re transferring the weight of decision making and precision on to everyone else.
PP: And so what’s happening is they’re trying to both get through content quickly while also trying to judge for every single piece of agenda, “Is this the right thing to bring to this entire group? Is this the right thing to bring to the entire group?” And so you’re actually spreading decision-making to 12 people and it’s exhausting. So every single time anyone shares anything, they’re wondering, “Is this okay?” And then as a listener, people are also thinking, “Why are we talking about this?” Or, “This could really be done everyone else.” It’s like a bleed. When we aren’t clear… Brené, in our first conversation back in November, you used this beautiful analogy from your social work research around… I think you called it ethic filters, and you talked about ethic filters and how you and Steve used that concept when you were a grad student to apply to your wedding. Do you remember this?
PP: And I think you said something like, “Okay, the filters we’re going to use for our wedding is that this is going to be completely about celebrating us as individuals and the union that is going to come out of the unique spark of the two of us.” And that gave you an orientation to understand who should you invite? What should you wear? Short white dress, wild flowers, where do we host this thing? What’s the song? But it wasn’t this kind of random hodgepodge, it was through these filters. And it sounds like you have that for Rumble, you have that for some of these teams, this is a practice that you already have, it’s a strength within your organization that you can already call on and I would suggest taking some filters to help actually guide what is this meeting that was formally known as Campfire? [laughter]
PP: What are the filters that rise to the level of being worthy to share as a full agenda? And if there aren’t that many, or if it turns out that actually what they need is just time with the Roundup, and that’s the only time that they can get them, then to structure the meeting differently. So say, for example, part of the problem is you’re not sure when to get face time with the senior team and it’s super busy, then you change the structure of the meeting. So say, for example, you come out and you say, actually, the majority of this stuff needs to happen in one-on-ones or two-on-twos, on Zoom, you can make everybody a co-host and you can create on a separate Google Doc… I actually did this for my newsletter community with a facilitator named Misha Glouberman, last fall.
PP: And the way he did it, and I’m going to get a little technical here, but say you have this agenda you created in a Google Doc or some kind of shared… Whatever tech you use, and then in the first five minutes, you maybe do some kind of check-in or you do a creative check-in, or you talk about the purpose of this meeting, and if there’s something on the agenda that rises to the occasion of something like the book launch, it’s interesting, I’m making this up, say there’s five things that need to be true for it to rise to the level of that book launch conversation. It affects the brand. We’re excited about it. It’s super speed. All people are touching it. If we don’t all know what each other’s parts are, this could not go well, I don’t know what the elements are, but I think you could almost reverse engineer why that was such a good fit for this meeting.
PP: And then decide, “Okay, if anything hits that, we all do it as a team.” And if it doesn’t, you create the agenda in a Google Doc, you make everybody a co-host on Zoom, if they have the latest version of Zoom, and then people can create breakout rooms within Zoom and just have literally office hours. Whoever is interested in this topic, you go and sit and do your one-on-one, and then you go… It’s like portals, you just go in and out of rooms in real time, so everyone doesn’t have to be part of every conversation, but they know that that’s the time to catch up with those people, if the constraint is time.
BG: Can I ask a question?
PP: Of course.
BG: If we did something like that where we had the breakout rooms, would it be helpful to come back together and discuss it so that we all have the five C’s and we’re able to then share the five C’s with our own teams?
PP: We started this conversation by saying, this is a time for beta and for experiments, what I would suggest… This is your homework. What I would suggest is you go into a beta on the meeting formally known as Campfire for say four weeks, and you try a couple of different structures and you come back and see what is energizing to everybody, how do we actually structure this? Try a couple of different formats, and a couple of guidelines on both how to use the time and then also how to set up the agenda. I think the first is openings really matter in any gathering, and closings really matter. Openings are the ways, particularly now when everybody’s remote, we’re all doing completely different things, five minutes ago, you could be on a parent-teacher conference with your child’s teacher, or you could be attending somebody’s virtual birthday party, or you could be…
PP: We’re slicing between identity so rapidly that particularly in Zoom meetings, the way you open and convene a group really matters, because the first 5% of a meeting or a gathering sets the pathways for the rest of the meeting. And so begin together, and I think really think about what are the first five minutes of how you want to start that meeting, and I would say “What’s the purpose and how do you connect people quickly to the purpose and to each other?” So it’s just like this is and then whatever the name of the meeting becomes, this is the purpose, maybe do a quick check-in, and check-ins for speed you could do it on the chat instead of everyone verbally checking in, size really matters. If it was four people, I’d say do a quick verbal check-in, but 12 people, I would ask one question and have everyone just answer it in the chat, and it could be something related to the content that day, if the theme is creativity, or the theme is color or the theme is context, you could ask something like, “What’s an example in the last week where you asked for more color on something and it changed a decision you made?” Just stick it in the chat.
PP: We don’t need to all talk about it, just stick it into the chat, it’s data, and it helps them orient, “Okay, what is this meeting about, how do I process information through this?” Literally five minutes. And then depending on if something has risen to the occasion of being full group worthy. Then I would give some time to that portion, and then otherwise I would experiment with having 40 minutes or so in this Google Doc co-host breakout room. You name the breakout rooms, what the topic is… Again, Brené to the earlier conversation, naming matters, so the agenda should actually be on the room in the Google Doc, so people understand what’s going in, and if 11 out of 12 people join one of those rooms, then you laugh and you pull the other chair around the barn, you’re like, “Oops, this is interesting, I guess, this is the full Team meeting.” It’s just a way to experiment in real time, the way we used to be able to do with our bodies to actually understand where interest is, where energy is, where data is, and then always come back to close together. So it’s like a book.
PP: You talk about re-entry, you want to end in a way that helps people share some data, but the data matters less than actually just coming back and closing out the group together, if this is a group whose identity you want to build around this meeting. And that’s a big if, I don’t know if this is a group that really “matters.”
BB: Say that again?
PP: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that happens when organizations grow and when groups grow, and this is true in religious communities, this is true in non-profits, but particularly when companies start scaling, is that inadvertently meetings become groups. Meetings become group identities. And so, “Oh no, we just thought it’d be interesting to come together and on a Tuesday to just kind of touch base between these 12 people,” and then all of a sudden those 12 people are meeting every Tuesday for this meeting and the rest of the organization is kind of like, “Oh, is that the new blah blah blah group?” Or like, “Oh, they’re the campfirers” or “they’re… ” And you didn’t even realize like, “Oh, no, no, no, this is not a thing. It’s just a meeting!” And it’s like, well, when a group of people meet repeatedly over time, and particularly if it goes well, or reasonably well, a sense of group identity is going to form.
PP: And so the last thing I’ll just say and then I’m going to pause is there’s also ways that you can turn up the desire, if you want an identity to be shaped around a specific group, there’s things you can do in that meeting to reify that identity, and there’s also things you can do to turn it down. And what I was just saying is, at the end, meaning making disproportionately happens at the last 5% of an experience. “What transpired here? What did we learn here? How have I been changed by what somebody said in this room? And then how do I also exit? What can we share with everybody else? What are my follow-up steps? How do I move forward now having this time with these people?” And so those last 5% is a time not just to share data, but begin to also help people feel connected to each other around this purpose and having an exit chat question. What is one thing that you most learned in the last 50 minutes that’s going to change the way you make a decision, that’s going to help make a better decision? And then just put into the chat, we overuse conversation and we underuse chat.
BB: Yeah, the chat data is really helpful, always when I’m facilitating, we print out all the chats and I read through them with a magnifying glass and try to understand and what got stepped on and stepped over as a facilitator. I can’t read the chats while I’m facilitating a lot of the time. So sometimes I’ll have someone doing nothing but reading chats when I’m facilitating, so I think the chats are great. I’m in stress mode.
PP: So one is name, we’re going to think about the name, and we’re going to not think of a cute name or a fun name or an inspired name, we’re going to think of a name that properly reflects the purpose of the meeting and how you want people to show up. Number two, and I wouldn’t say this for everybody, part of what I’m listening for is what do you already know how to do? And you already think in ethic filters, so to take that idea and to think about “What are the filters for this meeting? What rises to the level?” and then to share that with people so that… No one wants to be the person who’s taking too much time with a one-on-one, it’s not good for anybody, and so it’s like, how do we determine what needs to rise to the level of the group? And then third, experiment with the structure and see if you can do like an unconference for part of the meeting. And then I think finally think about how you want to open and how you want to close, and if what you realize out of this four-week experiment that actually this is only really needed, and it’s really, truly worthy of all our time when there’s a big project like the Tarana Brené book collaboration, and it’s an ad hoc meeting, smoke signal goes up up, “Oh! It’s time for a Campfire!” But you don’t do it… It’s almost exhausting to do it every week, if you’re not totally sure what it’s for.
PP: And then the last thing I would just say is deciding the agenda Monday morning, and then being ready for it Monday afternoon to me feels really tight, and I would think about perhaps asking for the agenda or asking what people want to do the Thursday or the Friday before, so you have time to elevate what’s going to be the substantive 20-minute in the full group, and then maybe just to ad hoc in the room, people can decide on Monday, but I would decide much sooner is there a bigger team meeting? And then I think the final thing, Brené, is going back to the point of whether or not you’re at this meeting and which meetings do you attend, is a big question.
BB: I’m baited breath, I’m waiting. What’s the answer? Priya Parker me.
PP: Let me ask you this, so what is your purpose in your work?
BB: What is my personal purpose?
BB: Oh, my personal purpose is to use research to connect the seemingly unconnectable and then language it in a way that makes people feel less alone and braver.
PP: Okay. So just say that to me again, slowly.
BB: I’ve done a lot of purpose work, that’s the only reason I have it at the top of my head.
PP: Y’all listen up. This is a really good purpose, well structured.
BB: Is to use research to make connections between the seemingly unconnectable in our lives and language those connections in a way that helps people feel less alone, more connected, and braver.
PP: Beautiful. And in order to achieve that purpose, why have you built this organization in this way? How does this organization help you achieve that purpose?
BB: Now, I couldn’t do it without them. I could not do it without them. I couldn’t do it without any of them. Yeah. And who would want to do it by themselves? That’s awful… But I just couldn’t do it without them, because if there’s no website, no operations team, then how do people find it? If there’s no design team and art team, how do we put together powerful words and images to help convey what I’m learning? If there’s no speaking and media team, how am I out there talking about the work? And if there’s not a global team, if there’s not… There’s just a diversity team, the facilitators trying to do the work on the ground. So this is how we do it.
PP: So when I listen to your purpose, I think the strongest verb that you use is to use research, you are a researcher at the core of how you verb in the world, how you engage with the world, what I think also lights you up, what gives you working in a way that keeps energizing you so that you’re not getting completely depleted, it’s a self-fulfilling cycle because you enjoy research, you’re good at it, you’re in the actual data, you’re not becoming an X-ray of an X-ray of this former researcher that’s now running this organization, you are close to your source work.
BB: Yes, I’m a researcher and teacher at my heart. Strip everything away, that’s what I have always been. That’s what I will be in the end.
PP: And to me, protecting that source work… Different organizations are created around all sorts of different sources, but the organization in the current form doesn’t work without you connecting deeply to your source work, and there’s different types of crafts like… I’m a facilitator. There’s a reason why 50% of my time I’m still facilitating real groups, real sweaty groups that scare me. I’m still taking on problems that I’m at the edge of my learning for, so that I am continuing to develop my mastery in my craft, and then I can write about it and read about it and talk to others about it, but if I’m not close to my source work, I’m going to shrivel up and I’m going to become pretty boring.
BB: Oh yeah, I feel like I would die. Yeah.
PP: Yeah. And so I think the last thing that I would say is when you start… And this is for all of us. When we start thinking about a gathering or a meeting you want to make over, at the center of the question is “Well, what is the purpose of this meeting?” And then at the center of that question is “What is my individual purpose? What is our collective purpose and how does the way we spend our time serve that?” And so for you, Brené, I think this is like a time mapping equation, but I think the most important thing to protect for the organization and also for you is your access to your source work.
PP: And what I mean by that is you doing your research, you writing, you reading, and there may be certain things that you can begin to step back on and I don’t know, these are controversial questions. Do you do your own social media? Or do you have ways that if it’s not you, it says someone else’s name, so it’s very clear when it’s not you. There’s ways to step back, but the thing to… She’s making a wonderfully scary scared face, and I think part of your authenticity is you are close to your source work and everybody can feel that. And it gives you life. And so the thing to protect is… When I say source work for you, it’s researcher, it’s actually looking at data, it’s talking to people, it’s reading, it’s writing, it’s thinking, and then beginning to make connections for people in ways that are really helpful to them, but if a comedian, somebody I get a lot of inspiration from in terms of craft is Jerry Seinfeld, he does not rest on his laurels, he still writes jokes every day pre-pandemic, I read that he still goes to random clubs, comedy clubs unannounced to try bits.
PP: He is committed to craft, and he’s been committed to craft for 40 years. Esther Perel the relationship therapist, she still sees clients, her source work, she knows what her source work is. And I think when we have a craft and then there’s a business built on that, and you still want the craft… So I hear in you, you want to stay to this research, if it started getting boring to you, I’d give you a different advice, but protecting the craft and protecting your research and your interaction is incredibly important to protect that glowing orb inside of you. [chuckle] And then to also listen to your team and your siblings in this case, to really understand what it is that they need to, in some ways, get you out of the way, and there may be a painful three to six months where they start getting everything out of your head and putting it into CRM tools or all of that, and there may be a temporary time that you don’t like to get some of the context out, and then the controversial question… And in a good way is to say “What do I absolutely need to do myself? This is not an efficiency problem, this is what I do, this is who I am, this is why I do, and I need to protect that at all costs.” And then you start figuring out, “Okay, given that, how do I allocate my time?”
BB: This is what we do in meetings, when we are celebrating goodness, we do… I guess Jazz hands, is that what that’s called?
PP: I see a lot of Jazz hands. [chuckle]
BB: I think this was really hard. What are you thinking and feeling, Barrett?
BG: Yeah, I think it is hard. And I think the hardest for me is we’re so intentional about everything we do and feel like this is a little half-assed and that doesn’t feel good. Half-assed might be too strong, but we’re so intentional and thoughtful about so many things.
BB: Is this true or not true Barrett? Was Campfire born out of desperation? Because we set up the ecological fallacy that happens in there, the weedsy versus the strategic, we set it up to be like that. We told some folks, “Look, Brené doesn’t have time to meet with you and Roundup doesn’t have time so bring it here.” And then we told other folks bring strategic things. Did we build it out of, we know we need to do something for the five Cs, and was there some desperation attached to it? We’re not good when we’re desperate usually and that’s why I’m asking.
BG: I would say yes.
BB: What can you tell us, Priya, about gatherings, not in the bounce and not in beta, but gatherings that are put together out of scarcity?
PP: I think that most gatherings are put together out of scarcity. I think and I would reframe scarcity, which is, you felt a need. What is scarcity? Scarcity is, we don’t have what we need, and so there’s a way of thinking that’s like, in that moment in time, you felt a need and you kind of threw a container at it. And it hobbled along, and some beauty came out of that, the book launch and we’re learning, we’re experimenting, and now we’re in a moment, which is this great reset where you’re going to start thinking, when do we gather again at that bar, all physically? When and how do we do these meetings? What should we make over? What’s the relationship? We didn’t even get into this… What’s the relationship between the meeting formally known as Campfire and the Friday meeting? And so I think this is a moment for so many organizations and teams to actually pause and not judge ourselves, but to say, “That was what we needed 10 months ago, and now let’s actually look up, see what we learned, and think again, what is the need now, and how do we set up the right container so that we are setting ourselves all up for success and respecting our time, and knowing… ” At some levels it’s also a relief, it’s those hand rails again, guests want to know what to bring and how to be successful and the art of the host and the art of the artful gatherer is setting up enough context so that the group can do its work.
BB: God, I just feel so much deep gratitude for you right now. Really Priya.
PP: Well, thank you for trusting me. [chuckle]
BB: You’re so good at what you do.
PP: You are too, and so you have your homework, you can come back and tell me how it goes in four weeks, I’m giving you a four-week challenge, test it out, listen, practice different ways, you can even spend the last five minutes debriefing the meeting each time. Make it an experiment. And in this moment, part of what I’m really trying to offer is as society, we are collectively having a gathering makeover, we are collectively deciding “How do we do this now?” And individually, we are asking “How do I do this now?” And it’s a beautiful moment to actually pause and keep that question open and think about how do we want to actually make over our gatherings? How do you make over the same way you might make over as you said your hair or your makeup, this is an extraordinarily important moment in time, how do we think about what we want to build next?
BB: Any final words for Priya, Barrett?
BG: Thank you so much.
BB: Yeah. I’m grateful. And we will follow up with all of you and for everyone listening, thank you for being a part of this. I know in my bones, and one thing I’m good at knowing are these kind of things, I know that what where Priya poked and prodded and lifted the hood and asked hard questions, this is all of us. This is all of us. I just feel like time and energy are the two most precious unrenewable resources, and there are no words for me to explain how I feel about my team. When you said why do you have these people? I couldn’t do it without them, but I wouldn’t want to do it without them. Not without one of them. So to be respectful of their time and it’s like getting invited to something, Barrett, that feeling when you get invited to something social and then you get there, freaking every woman there is wearing white jeans, but no one told you, and the gatherer could have just said, “Hey, it’s a white jeans thing.” And then you’re the asshole that’s like, “I don’t know, I didn’t get the white jeans thing.”
PP: I did not get the memo.
BB: It is the responsibility of the convener. Yeah!
PP: Yes. And I think it’s a sacred duty. How you ask other people to spend their time is the most important power that you have.
BB: Okay, So Priya, in addition to thank you. I have to say there’s a little bit of uncomfortable learning in what just happened.
PP: Yep, I agree.
BB: How do people who don’t get to have this conversation with you… I’ve read The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, I’ve read your book three times, as we start to come back and put up hand rails and ask ourselves these tough questions that you’ve been asking us, where can people find support from you if they would like to learn more?
PP: Thank you so much for asking that. It’s such a generous question. So much of us… I’m watching us re-emerge in the U.S. My focus for the next many months is helping people, all of us institutionally and individually make over our gatherings, and we are going to be doing that with lots of people around the country and in conversations with real people’s real gatherings. And I’m curious to see how you want to rethink the gatherings in your work, in your life, this is an opportunity to really re-imagine together. And so you can go to gatheringmakeover.com and join us there, sign up for this adventure. You can follow me on Instagram @priyaparker for this continued conversation and sign up for our newsletter. And I’m really interested in helping have these conversations around how do we really take this moment in time and re-imagine the way we spend our time together? We are in a moment where we can either just keep going on auto-pilot or we can really pause and ask ourselves these questions. The other thing I would say is just listen back to the last hour of conversation and ask yourselves these questions. “Why are we meeting? What is in a name? Should we still call it this thing? How should we spend our time? How do we decide this agenda? And what is it that we are all here for? And are these meetings and the ways that we’re coming together serving that purpose?”
BB: Priya, thank you so much. It’s not just what you do, it’s not just your expertise and your training and your power source, it’s also the way you do it, there’s just something… I don’t know, I’m looking at Barrett right now, there’s just something both elegant and kick-ass about the way you approach these things. It sounds paradoxical, but you hold all of that in one space, so thank you again.
PP: Thank you. Thank you so much.
BG: Thank you Priya.
PP: Thank you Barrett. I hope that was helpful. [chuckle]
BG: It was so helpful, thank you very much.
PP: Good, and Brené so much of what you do, and I’m just so grateful for you to… You continually are curious and research and you really use your interests and power and platform to highlight so many different types of people’s work, and I’m just so grateful that you are paying attention and helping us all pay attention to how do we actually intentionally spend our time together, so thank you.
BB: Woo! What an incredible vulnerable conversation that was. And helpful and real and it’s making a difference in how I think about my role, it’s making a difference in how I think about our work. And we are sending a lot of surveys to our folks right now asking “What is meaningful about coming back for them? What’s not so meaningful?” And “What do they want work to look like right now?” And I have to say that we’re clear that 30 people will have 30 different ideas, and we can’t meet everyone’s expectations, but we can include everyone in the decision making, and I’m telling people just like we talked about in the bottom of the survey, literally writing, we’re staying in beta, we’ll continue to collect data, we’ll continue to ask, we’ll continue to center how your experiences are, because I can’t do this work without this amazing team.
BB: So, well, I love her frame that this is a possibly once in a generation opportunity to be deeply creative about how we come together. We will put links to her great book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters on the episode page on brenebrown.com, you can learn about Priya and her work at priyaparker.com, and you’ve got to check out this new awesome thing that lives there, The New Rules of Gathering guide, it’s meant to help all of us who are planning casual get-togethers, parties, work events, meetings it’s just a series of thoughtful inquiry about “How do we identify the purpose for coming together? How do we craft better invitations? How do we nail closing?”
BB: She’s just so generous sharing her wisdom. Find it at priyaparker.com. You can also find Priya online @priyaparker on Instagram. Priya has built a container for the makeover idea and the process at gatheringmakeover.com. So if you want to get together with folks in your life, on your team, in your community, at your church, temple, mosque, and say, “Okay, how are we going to re-think things?” Go to gatheringmakeover.com. Alright, don’t forget every episode of Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us has a page on brenebrown.com, where you can find links and information, also transcripts, which are available usually three to five business days after the podcast drops. Spotify, thank you. Again, have I mentioned we won The Webby Award, we won The Webby Award, we won The Webby Award! Thank you, Spotify. Thank you Parcast and find all of our mini mixtapes in the Brené Brown Hub on Spotify. Okay, thanks y’all. Stay awkward, brave, and kind.
The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carly Madden, and by Tristan McNeil and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Kristen Acevedo and Andy Waits. And the music is by The Suffers.
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