This is a fun quote to have as your phone background (and I do, in fact, have a picture of this as my background . . .), but when you take a second to think about it, there are a lot of things we could learn about running meetings from Amy Poehler’s character on the popular NBC show Parks and Recreation.
For those of you who haven’t seen the show (yet), Leslie Knope works in the Pawnee, Indiana Parks and Recreation department. And while that might not sound like a setting ripe for humor, sweetness, and inspiration, it surprises its viewers at every turn with its lovable characters and ridiculous situations.
You’re probably asking yourself, ok, what can a character in a show about local government in the Midwest possibly teach me about running meetings? I’m SO glad you asked!
For those of you who have seen the show (great job, you’re awesome), you’ve probably noticed they have quite a few meetings. The pilot episode actually centers around a town hall meeting and the feedback the people of Pawnee are giving about “improvements” they want to see. Leslie also leads countless internal meetings with her team and, despite the many obstacles she faces, manages to accomplish an unthinkable amount in her tenure at the Parks Department.
So we have to ask ourselves, what would it look like for Leslie to captain the ship of our meetings?
Get Input from Everyone
Leslie cares deeply about the concerns of her teammates. Despite the extremely diverse personalities at the Parks Department, she never shuts down an idea without first giving it serious consideration. Unless it’s Jerry/Gerry’s of course.
In the same way, we should approach meetings with an attitude of openness. The best leaders are those who take the time to understand their employees because they recognize that you should “treat people like they will make a difference, and they will.”1
Part of listening to your employees involves engaging in active listening. One of the reasons we created Anchor was to allow those leading meetings to give their full focus to participating in and facilitating meetings.
Too often in our fear of missing something, we miss everything. We want Anchor AI to be your peace of mind, so that you can give your team the attention they deserve. Just think of everything you might miss because you’re focusing on taking notes, instead of focusing on listening.
One of the things I admire most about Leslie Knope is how well she stays on task when leading meetings. She is an expert at making sure that expectations are clear, even if they are unrealistic (come on, Leslie, one hour to create a mural for the hallway that’s better than every other department??)
Unclear expectations are, in my opinion, one of the biggest areas of inefficiency in our workplaces. Just think of how many times you’ve had to redo something because you didn’t understand the original objective. Or how frustrating it is when you realize you aren’t meeting expectations that you didn’t even know were in place for you.
We believe that leaving meetings with agreed upon action items and decisions goes a long way towards solving the communication conundrum. Anchor AI’s Action Items, Decisions Made, and Meeting Summaries are designed to bring clarity to confusion and to bring shared understanding to what’s actually transpired in our many meetings.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Leslie Knope? Is it the visual of her tumbling into the pit? Is it her love for waffles? Or perhaps it’s her boundless enthusiasm for everything she puts her mind to?
For me, it’s the way that Leslie remains positive, no matter what obstacle she’s facing. I am inspired and challenged by how fiercely she cares for her coworkers, her family, and her constituents, even when they unfairly mistreat her at every turn.
Any time a group of diverse people comes together to collaborate on something, there is bound to be some kind of conflict. And while conflict is certainly a healthy part of any productive meeting, it often falls to the leader of the meeting to maintain a positive outlook.
Let’s be honest, we all have an April Ludgate in our meetings. Someone who, while full of raw potential, can’t help but offer snarky comments and lack of confidence in a plan. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to propel those thoughts and comments into meaningful insights while keeping the overall tone of the meeting positive and engaging for everyone.
Staying positive in tense meetings is definitely a learned skill that takes practice and experience. Not many of us have Leslie’s natural enthusiasm and drive. We need to be able to pour our energy into facilitating the conversations, rather than trying to capture all of the insights that are being produced between the sarcasm. Because while your April Ludgate might seem un-invested, she just might have the best ideas to offer.
Culture is king queen
Here at Anchor AI, we take “word hard, play hard” very seriously. If you stop by our office on any given Tuesday, you might find us in our recurring meeting playing Among Us or throwing down with some Can Jam. We try to build a culture that creates the energy we need to work ridiculously hard by enjoying time with each other.
Life is short, and we spend an almost alarming amount of it in meetings. Let’s be a little bit more like Leslie and make even the most mundane of meetings enjoyable. Because what’s better than working hard at work worth doing with people you love? You might just find that you bring some joy to the people around you in the process.
1 – Jim Goodnight, CEO and co-founder of SAS Institute