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What Baking Taught Me About Running Effective Meetings

Collaboration | Meetings

April 10, 2020. I was supposed to be a few days into a relaxing vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico but was instead in week 4 of the national lockdown. By then, I had found ways to entertain myself, like binging Tiger King, knocking out a puzzle or two, and baking.

I was not alone in expanding upon my baking hobby. The influx of amateur bakers raiding the baking aisles last year caused a temporary shortage on baking essentials. King Arthur, leading supplier of flour, baking mixes, and cookbooks, reported selling the equivalent of $43.1 million 5lb. bags of flour between April 1-November 20, 2020. That’s compared to $23.7 million in all of 2019.

For me, baking has a calming effect that requires my undivided attention. While I may have music or a podcast on in the background, my attention is on what I’m making. I shut out everything else like emails, texts, and even the pandemic. This is probably one of the reasons baking became so popular during such a difficult time.

When I reflect on baking, I can’t help but notice common themes between it and running effective meetings. Stay with me on this for some tasty insights.

In both baking and running meetings, attention to detail is important. Just like you don’t want to leave out crucial ingredients in a bake, you don’t want to leave the right people out of a meeting. In baking, you must follow the recipe in order to get the best result. In meetings, your agenda acts the same way. In this blog, I’ll explore these concepts further and provide tips that may help your meetings and even your baking.


Preparing AKA Mise en place

Mise en place, French for “setting up” or “everything in its place” refers to having all your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, etc. and all your cooking equipment and tools set out. When I’m creating a new, complex bake, I find this critical. In order to do this, I take time to read the recipe and instructions thoroughly, then begin setting up. When this is done successfully, I’m well prepared and less likely to completely ruin a bake. It’s still not fool-proof, but I’m setting myself up for success.

The same goes for meetings. For most day-to-day check-in’s and one-on-ones, this may not be as important. However, when tasked with facilitating or leading a high-stakes meeting, preparing is critical.

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In one of our most popular programs, Essential Facilitation™, we explain key elements in setting up your meeting. While they’re all important, I’ll highlight a couple below.

Stakeholder Analysis: Who are the people or groups affected by the potential decisions in this meeting? What would be the “win” for each?

Why is this important? In high-stakes meetings, you’re likely trying to create buy-in or support. In order to do this, you need to better understand those in the room. What will motivate them? How will buy-in or support impact their lives? Are they influenced or will they influence others? These are all key questions to ask when thinking through your stakeholders.

Decision-Making Method: How much involvement will people have in making decisions?

Why is this important? When making decisions, it’s important to make everyone aware of who is ultimately making the decision and the involvement of everyone in the room. Are there decision makers in the room? Is it a feedback session that will then be presented to decision makers? Make sure you know this and express it to everyone involved so they can contribute accordingly.


The Agenda AKA The Recipe

A recipe is to baking as an agenda is to a meeting. When baking, you must follow your recipe perfectly or you risk a complete disaster. On more than one occasion, I’ve mistaken a tablespoon and a teaspoon. The result was unappetizing. In meetings, an agenda is your recipe for a successful outcome. When you veer off the agenda, it’s like confusing sugar for salt.

Like a recipe, your meeting agenda will keep your meeting on track. While it’s important to stick to your recipe, there are opportunities to slightly deviate. Maybe it’s adding pecans to your chocolate chip cookies or including some dry ingredients like thyme into your sourdough bread (I highly recommend this). The same goes for your agenda. IA defines an agenda as “a roadmap in which you can consciously deviate.” For example, in a meeting covering Q1 marketing metrics, a discussion may break out over a proposed marketing initiative that wasn’t included in the agenda. This is considered a strategic moment in which the meeting leader must decide if they will stick to the agenda and table the discussion for another time or consciously deviate to this new topic and adjust the existing agenda in order to make everyone else aware of how time will be re-allocated.

You can learn more about creating an effective meeting agenda in a previous blog I wrote.


Feedback for Continued Improvement

For better or worse, when your bake comes out of the oven (and has properly cooled), it’s ready to serve. What’s the first question you ask when your family and friends have tried your latest concoction? “What do you think?”

We ask this with our fingers crossed that they don’t spit it back out. We want to know if our blood, sweat, and tears were worth it. We also want to know how we can improve. Even if you followed the recipe perfectly, other factors can impact the result. Maybe your sourdough was great but a bit dense. Next time, you’ll adjust the rising agent. Maybe your cake was a too sweet. Next time, you’ll go lighter on the sugar.

This feedback is what makes you a better baker. Feedback also helps you become a stronger meeting leader or facilitator. That’s why we encourage everyone to practice “Plus/Delta” at the end of meetings.

We discuss this practice and more in a previous blog. Simply put, take five minutes at the end of your meeting and ask what worked (plus), make notes of the comments received, then ask what could have been done differently (delta) and note the responses. Make a concerted effort to always keep improving your meeting skills. Just like baking.

I can’t end a blog about baking and not provide a recipe. So, here it is. Like so many during quarantine, I got into the sourdough craze. While bread is an obvious go-to, the possibilities with sourdough are endless. My favorite is sourdough pancakes. If you’re itching to try something new with your own sourdough and love pancakes, this recipe does not disappoint.

While you’re at it, if you are seeking a tasty way to improve your facilitation skills, take a look at our popular program, Essential Facilitation™ which provides essential ingredients to guiding the meeting process, brokering communication, building agreement, and resolving conflict.

About Jake Blocker

Jake Blocker creates and executes marketing initiatives for Interaction Associates (IA). He’s involved from initial ideation to the creative development and the analysis of the results. If you were to merge the left and right brain into a job, you would have Jake’s role at IA.