The term Town Hall Meeting is often used inside a company to characterize a meeting organized by a highly ranked executive and gathering a large part of the company employees, or even all of them.
Usually, the meeting is meant to give a short status on what the executives are working on for the future of the company and to answer some of the burning questions that have been heard in the hall way. Some of those questions have not been heard directly by the executives, but have been reported to them by some people. I have used two times the word “some” in the last sentence to give a sense of fuzziness, and uncertainty of what are the real concerns of people.
Let’s imagine that you are this executive, you have organized the meeting, you are ready for your speech, everybody is there. So now, you delivered your speech and you are ready for questions.
And, there’s no question.
Or, if there are questions, there are pushed by some manager, that want you to repeat what you already said, something that will reinforce their own beliefs, or positions.
In your speech, you have even gone further than what was planned to be said with your management team, and you have said that.
But still, there’s no question.
And, you know that there are unspoken questions. But the time is over, and there’s no way to know what are the real questions.
What is the problem?
Maybe the problem lies in the format itself. The Town Hall is not giving the sense to people that they can contribute to the thinking, that they can disagree. The Town Hall presents yourself in a position of power, with the authority to say yes or no.
Now, let’s say that you are a participant of the Town Hall Meeting.
At some point during the speech, you had one question. It was not really a question, in reality, it was more a slight disagreement. Maybe you wanted a clarification.
During the course of the speech, you have seen that effect reproduced 2 or 3 times. But that was not the time for questions.
And when the time for questions came, you cannot find a way to formulate all this in a meaningful way.
You even heard some of your coworkers said at the end of the meeting: “I bite my tongue because I really not agree with what Mr. Z said on this topic”.
Maybe, If we want more interactions, if we want people to ask for clarifications when it’s time to do that, we need to use another format of meetings.
One of those formats could be a Fish Bowl.
In a fish bowl, the executive will not be alone in the center, so he can be joined in the fishbowl by some people in his or her management team. And it’s a moderated conversation, so topics can flow more freely from one or the other.
In addition, there’s an empty chair in the middle, and any person in the audience can sit on that chair to join the conversation at any time. When this occurs, an existing member of the fishbowl must leave the fishbowl and free a chair.
This way the clarifications questions and the slight disagreement could be covered at the moment they arise, and more questions and concerns can be covered.
Are you ready to try this?
The header picture is from Ryan McGuire.