In fact, there were no hairdressers or telephone sanitizers on the course that I was attending, but there were lots of people-communications-oriented types from the civil service, insurance companies, marketing organisations and other institutions quite alien to me.

Well, though it is hard for this engineer to admit it, I have learnt a lot from being on Ark B and, in particular, about running efficient meetings.

The statistics on how much time we all spend in unproductive meetings are both shocking and impossible to verify, but it is safe to say that we could do a lot better. I teach a simple system for getting meetings started, and it has stood the test of many engineering trainings and workshops. I will explain it briefly, before returning to Ark B...

To “get everyone on the same PAGE” at the start of a meeting, I have to start with:

  • Purpose: Why are we meeting? What type of meeting (status, info, etc)?
  • Agenda: How are we going to work? How will we organise our timeÉ
  • Goals: What are we aiming to achieve with this meeting? (specific points)
  • Endorsement: Ok? Does everyone agree? Other points to add?

I regularly use PAGE when driving meetings, either face to face or on the telephone. The checklist is also a valuable defensive weapon, for use when someone else has taken the lead. If I see that the discussion has started without PAGE being covered, the acronym helps me to get things back on track with a specific request. For example, “would you mind if we worked out an agenda before getting any further into this discussion ...”. In other words, I can use PAGE proactively (I drive) or reactively (I am a passenger, but I have a safe way to talk to the driver).

This brings me back to Ark B. The folks that I met there were rather fond of abstract concepts and had a lot of trouble with questions such as “can you give me an example?” and “how does that work in practice?”. However, they were rather good at “fundamentals”. In particular, discussions of what was needed for any successful human undertaking would always come back to the following three fundamentals:

  • Meaning: we cannot survive long without a sense of direction
  • Process: how we do things, as opposed to what we are trying to achieve
  • Content: what we do and what we are trying to achieve

It is interesting that by working from a completely different perspective - ie. what are the practical points to attend to at the start of any meeting - we obtain essentially the same points. For a meeting, meaning, process and content correspond exactly with Purpose, Agenda and Goals. Making this connection helps me understand why these three points are absolutely essential to a successful meeting – if any of the three missing, then a fundamental need is not respected. That’s why PAGE works!

The importance of the meaning/process/content triad is a general concept taken from the field of applied psychology, by which I mean management, leadership, coaching and so on. It can be applied to almost any situation - the trick is to translate the abstract concept into something specific to the activity in question.

For example, the link between my technical contribution and company strategy can sometimes be lost. If I am unclear about why I am designing X when the market trend seems to be moving towards Y, then my work may lose its sense of meaning, and I may become demotivated. On the other hand, I might be well-aligned with my company’s strategy but be completely at odds with the way in which different groups are working together. In this case, the process is the problem. Finally, there is a tendency, in both private and professional life, to become preoccupied with content - the deliverables to release this quarter, the syntax of the program, the layout of a chip, what we will eat for lunch, etc. Once this becomes an obsession, the balance between content, process and meaning is upset.

Hence, although PAGE was derived experimentally, working with non-engineering folks on Ark B has given me a deeper understanding of why it works so well. What’s more, I now have a new perspective from which to view other aspects of engineering work.

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