Where you stand, and where (and how) you sit

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Two initial disclaimers:

  1. I know almost nothing about “feng shui”, the ancient Chinese system intended to ensure that buildings and objects are properly placed and oriented.
  2. I can barely understand the full name of the newly-published scientific article, “Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions”, on which this comment is based (but it sure got me thinking about how to get the best results from the vast amounts of time Directors and others spend in meetings).

Three researchers (one each from Harvard, MIT and Yale) found that our sense of “touch” or “feel” clearly influences our decisions, even when those decisions have absolutely nothing to do with touching or feeling. While you can find the entire article on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the gist of it includes such findings that people sitting in hard chairs were less willing to negotiate than people in more comfortable chairs.

So while this is not intended to serve as a call to check the comfort of the  seating in the meeting room, it is a great reminder just how much our opinions and our points of view can be affected by our comfort level, our perspective, or the lack thereof on decisions that may have great importance to our organizations.

There is a full raft of questions related to this that may be worth considering, some of which come straight from the experts on running great meetings:

  1. Where do you actually hold your meetings? Same place ‘most every time?
  2. How is the meeting room configured?  Big, imposing mahogany board table? A place or thing to share ideas?  Even a flip chart?
  3. Who sits where? Does that ever shift?
  4. How long do the meetings last?

Now, let’s be honest with ourselves.  Some of these are things we would rather not change.  We like our chairs, our views, our patterns.  We find them comforting.  But changing things up now and then helps to ensure that we really do have a full set of perspectives, much of which we simply cannot gather by sitting in the same seats, or relying on the same set of inputs.

The young songwriter, Merrily James, tells us to “Get up, go out, change your views”. In the somewhat less musical terms of the first of the NACD Key Agreed Principles, “governance structures and practices should be designed by the board to position the board to fulfill its duties effectively and efficiently.” In either case, the challenge is the same: making sure you stand up and take in the view, regardless of where or how you sit.

How do you ensure that in your meetings?  Let us know.

2 Comments

  • Bob Frisch says:

    Rob,

    Thanks for giving visibility to such an important issue. Individuals and teams often spend days preparing PowerPoint presentations as the centerpieces of Executive Team or Board discussions, and virtually no time considering the context for the discussion itself.

    If what’s important is the outcome, the meeting itself needs to be designed as carefully as the pre-read package. But, surprisingly, that’s rarely the case.

    Glad to see you blogging for the NACD. A great organization, and a wonderful match for your insights.

    BF

  • Rob,

    Fascinating piece. We need to get you to give us some wisdom about the board room for the new building!

    cbr