From square to round: Why executive meetings need to make room for growth and development

My grandfather was wise beyond my years! He was full of simple sayings to help me make sense of the big ideas. One of his favourites, ‘You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole,’ popped into my head during a recent conversation with a CEO. 

The CEO expressed frustration that executive meetings focused on urgent operational work, updates, budget decisions, and workforce challenges – one might call these ‘square’ meetings. Although critical for keeping the organisation running smoothly, these meetings lacked room for deep reflection or learning. Square meetings tend to be structured and rigid, with limited time for discussion, a set agenda, and a focus on urgent operational matters. The need for concrete solutions is also a defining characteristic. All these factors combine to create the sides of the “box” and restrict the scope of the conversation.

I know the CEO values growth and development and understands that continuously reviewing and improving how the executive works is critical. Yet, operations consume the agenda, leaving no time for a different type of dialogue. A similar pattern plays out across many of our clients where, despite their attempts, teams need more time to review, explore, refine and improve. More time needs to be protected for ‘round’ meetings. 

While ‘square’ meetings are necessary, ‘round’ meetings are equally important for the team’s growth and development. During ‘round’ meetings, team members are encouraged to speak openly and honestly about their experiences, challenges, and successes. They also give and receive feedback regularly, both positive and constructive, to improve as a team. The focus is on making progress rather than just identifying problems. 

The goal of ‘round’ meetings is to work smarter and more effectively, not just harder or faster. When we don’t create space for ‘round’ meetings, we miss out on valuable opportunities for growth and development. When we avoid these conversations, we may continue to make the same mistakes, miss out on opportunities for innovation, and fail to progress on the most important issues.

In contrast, when we are willing – even determined – to have these meetings, we create an environment of trust, collaboration, and accountability that will help us achieve our collective goals. 

So how can we ensure we have the right conversations in our ‘round’ meetings? Here are a few tips: 

  1. Set aside time specifically for ‘round’ meetings: It is essential to carve out time in meetings specifically for reflection and improvement. This ensures that we are not just focusing on the WHAT of ‘square’ meetings but also addressing HOW we are doing our job. 
  1. Encourage open and honest communication: Encourage team members to speak openly and honestly about their experiences, challenges, and successes. Most importantly, model open and honest communications about your experiences, challenges, and successes.  This helps create a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their perspectives. 
  1. Emphasise the importance of feedback: Feedback is critical for growth and development. Encourage team members to give and receive feedback regularly, both positive and constructive. 
  1. Focus on solutions, not just problems: When discussing challenges, focus on finding solutions rather than just identifying problems. This helps to create a sense of ownership and accountability among team members. 

In conclusion, my grandfather’s saying, “you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole,” reminds us that we cannot force things to work that are fundamentally incompatible. The same is true for executive meetings. We must focus on more than just operational demands at the expense of addressing how we do our job. We must create space for reflection, improvement, and growth. When we do, we can create an environment of trust, collaboration, and accountability, all critical factors in making progress on our most complex challenges.

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