19 Oct Priya Parker tells Madison bosses how to make meetings better
If you’ve ever been to a meeting, you know the feeling.
You’re sitting there, surrounded by people staring at their laptops or phones, reading aloud from shared spreadsheets while others battle overflowing email inboxes and stress about the pile of work waiting on their desks.
“Why am I here?” you and your colleagues ask yourselves. “What is this meeting even for?”
But no one says it out loud.
That’s the problem, renowned facilitator and author Priya Parker told more than 1,200 business and community leaders on Oct. 17 at the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s 70th Annual Dinner at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.
“The biggest mistake we make when we gather is we assume that the purpose is obvious and shared,” said Parker, author of the 2018 book “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters,” in a one-on-one conversation with Chamber President Zach Brandon.
“I know what a wedding is: white dress, down an aisle … I know what a board meeting is: one long round table, 12 white men,” Parker teased. “And so often, particularly for the gatherings we think are obvious, we don’t ask the why.”
Not asking that question, she said, can lead us to focus on what she calls “proxy wars about purpose,” like fights over who should get the last invitation, and miss the real point, like what the wedding is supposed to accomplish.
Parker’s work gained new attention when the COVID-19 pandemic made many of the usual gatherings impossible. People scrambled to find new ways to hold all sorts of events, from the mundane to the momentous.