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Culture is…Nonverbal Cues.

Culture is…your people’s nonverbal cues. 

A lot is communicated by the nonverbal, subtle actions your people do that say a lot about your workplace culture’s health. 

Take an example from the dating world. You’re out at dinner thinking you’re having a great time, and you look up to see your date buried in his or her phone, clicking away. In a corporate setting, some might try the excuse that they are simply “multitasking,” but let’s face it, multitasking on a date mean it’s not going very well. 

The myth of multitasking has been noted for a while now. Our brains simply do not multitask. As much as we might brag about it, we take twice as long to multitask two jobs than if we tackled each separately. 

Here’s the truth. If we are “multitasking” during work meetings, it doesn’t mean we’re getting more done; it means we’re bored. You can quickly pick up the cues when someone is fully present for a meeting or just waiting for it to end. We check our texts and emails, fidget, or start side conversations with people next to us. I’ve even been known to pretend to check emails when I’m really catching up on my favorite team’s stats or loading my Amazon cart for later (I’m sure your people have never done this, though).  

We act this way for a few reasons:

  • We’re bored—team meetings feel pointless, so we might as well get some other items checked off our list.
  • We’re disconnected—We aren’t invested in the people we work with, so we don’t come ready to hear from others. 
  • We’re full of ourselves—sometimes we have a bit of a superiority complex, so checking emails is our subtle way of communicating how we are busier (aka “important”) than the other people on our team. 

Try a culture audit during your next meeting by answering a few simple questions. Are people showing up to engage? Are they genuinely interested in what others are saying? Do they seem to know the value of gathering together? 

The good news is that you can help strengthen your meeting culture with a few simple steps. 

Set Clear Ground Rules

Start by clearly communicating your expectations for meetings. If you don’t want your people multitasking, tell them. Designate one notetaker and tell everyone else to stay off their devices. Write an agenda for each meeting and clarify what sort of input you expect during the meeting. Finally, don’t make meetings just for the sake of making meetings! Your and your team’s time is precious, and gathering together should drive productivity and camaraderie; make sure your agenda accomplishes these things, and your team will engage much more effectively. 

Encourage culture of feedback and allow your people to tell you how the meetings could improve. If your people feel they must multitask during meetings just to get everything done, that is a good sign that some time management coaching is probably needed.

A Competitive Culture Starts with You

The best thing you can do as a leader is model the type of engagement you want in your people. I have worked with leaders who put off such an air of frantic business that it infects everyone in the office. The way you approach people and projects will set a tone for others. 

Here’s a scenario: an employee comes to you for advice on a project she is working on. You are incredibly busy that day and want to help this project move forward, but you only have ten minutes to spare. This is a common experience, and there are two very different ways to approach this. 

  1. You tell her you can talk, but only if she walks with you down the hall to your next meeting while you also catch up on emails on your phone. You multitask while half-hearing her report and offer a quick response for ten minutes before rushing to your next meeting.

  2. You invite her into your office, sit down with zero distractions and brainstorm with her for seven minutes before rushing to your next meeting with three minutes to spare. 

These scenarios take about the same time, but option two is much better. By shutting off other distractions, you communicate with your employee that she is valued and that this project is important to you and your company. Because you are not multitasking, your feedback will be more focused, on point, and, therefore, more valuable. 

By implementing little changes like this into your approach to your people and your work, you can greatly improve the culture and work habits of the people in your organization. 

  • What are a few things you’ve noticed about people during your meetings you would like to change? 
  • What are some of the habits you have at work that might be impacting your organization's culture? 
  • What is one concrete practice you can try this week to improve the way people approach meetings? 

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