Bad meetings make bad companies. Especially mandatory ones. Instead of participating, people can’t wait for that painful moment to end.
What if we make it okay for people to opt-out?
Meetings drive affiliation and shape the organizational culture. It’s how effective teams get things done.
“Meeting’s over, let’s get back to work”
Boring and unproductive meetings frustrate everyone. It makes managers force their people to participate.
But coercion creates the opposite effect. It encourages withdrawal rather than participation. Everyone in the team will play along. And no one will give their best.
People don’t resist meetings — they resist being forced to attend boring, useless ones.
The remedy is an invitation. Let people choose if they want to join (or not).
Increase Engagement: Make Participation Optional
I can’t stress this enough.
The more we want to impose things on people, the less they will care. When change seems imposed, your team won’t just resist it. They will hate it.
Reactance is a psychological phenomenon that describes our tendency to resist coercion. When change is forced on us, it blocks our desire to transform ourselves or the organization.
Mandating reduces participation. Instead of forcing change, turn it into an open invitation.
Rather than telling people what to do, let them choose. That’s the main principle behind the Law of Two feet.
“If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go to some more productive place.”
This law originated from Open Space Technology. It encourages people to move from one space to another without the pressure that they are rude.
Physical presence is not the same as being present. When you are neither learning nor contributing, your mind checks out.
Are you getting value from this meeting?
Are you adding value to it?
The Law of two feet promotes responsibility. Instead of joining meetings on autopilot, people become more mindful on how to invest their time.
The Power of Choice
Autonomy is the best gift you can give your team, as I wrote here. People want to own their choices, not to be told how to work.
Every time I introduce the Law of Two Feet to a client, I get a skeptical reaction. Executives feel it will promote chaos and recklessness.
But it’s actually the opposite.
The paradox of freedom is that increases accountability. The more liberty people have, the more responsible they become.
People are more likely to stay — and participate — when they know it is okay to leave anytime.
Also, the rule doesn’t tell people to leave and do nothing. It invites them to “go to a more productive place.”
People struggle with another dilemma too. Will the first sign of trouble make people leave? And, if so, how will team members grow and learn?
The Law of Two Feet doesn’t tell people to leave at the first sign of conflict. It encourages everyone to reflect if they can add value and solve those tensions.
Most importantly, this law doesn’t work in isolation. It’s a perfect addition for a culture that knows how to addresses conflict constructively.
It takes guts for an employee to walk away from a meeting that someone more senior organized. But, that’s the beauty of this law. It encourages people to do what’s best for the organization, not to please their bosses.
Invoke the Law of Two Feet
Don’t force attendance. Make meetings and participation optional.
If a meeting is valuable, people will show up. If not, rather than becoming defensive, focus on making your session more valuable.
What’s not working? Is this meeting really necessary? Are you inviting the right people? How can you facilitate participation? Can you shorten the meeting?
People might abuse freedom, especially at the beginning. Be patient until everyone adapts.
Autonomy requires trust. Respect people and they will respect you. Don’t punish everyone for a few offenders.
The Law of Two feet works for more than meetings. It’s about creating exciting experiences that everybody wants to join.
Don’t impose change — and people will come.
Check out this guide to design more productive meetings.
Gustavo Razzetti is a change facilitator who helps leaders and teams drive positive change. He advises, writes, and speaks on personal growth, team development, and culture transformation. This article was originally published on Liberationist blog.