A few weeks ago I blogged about opening meetings with an intentional ice breaker. If the purpose of an ice breaker or relationship builder as I like to call them is to gently shock people into realizing a meeting is not just about information sharing, then a closing can and should be an invitation to extend conversations.
In the before times, pre-COVID, when we met in person I loved seeing people loitering after meetings. The lingering and one-on-one conversations were a clue to me that we had created magic. We created conditions where people were building relationships and changing behaviors. People were intentionally pausing to talk to others and extend the meeting for their own purposes – some of it might be social, some professional.
As I often would remark during the closing of a meeting the real work happens after the official meeting. A two-hour meeting isn’t enough time to tackle big tough problems the real work happens in these small one-on-one meetings or through informal conversations, my job was to find ways to extend the relationships from the official meeting so they could happen. A good closing to a meeting helps to make these conditions right.
Never Just Say Bye
I will admit I can and have been guilty of rushing the closing of a meeting and doing it perfunctorily. I’ve closed meetings in boring ways — often with logistical things like scheduling the next meeting, asking people to tidy their spots before leaving, or even just saying “We’re at time, thanks – byeeeee!!!” Online facilitation makes it much easier to slip into these bad habits. We can do better, and we should do better closings.
A good closing is JUST as important as a good opening. A good closing is an invitation to return to another gathering, it is a thank you to your guests, it is where you show your graciousness to people and acknowledge their contributions to spending time with you and each other.
When I think about facilitating for racial equity, the closing of a meeting is very important to showing my gratitude to the people of color who joined me. This is an important piece of claiming our space and creating something just – just for ourselves and justice based.
Lessons from Funerals
As I mentioned in previous blog posts author and facilitator Priya Parker has put a lot of thought into what makes a good event. I recently heard her talk about how she thinks about closing events and what she’s learned from funeral directors – it was a very Six Feet Under (TV show) vibe.
There is a reason at funerals we don’t end with logistics and scheduling. Funerals are about people. We gather to honor, remember, reflect, and create memories. Closing a meeting can do this as well.
At many of the meetings I facilitate, I ask people to take a moment to reflect on our time together, whether it was a two-hour meeting or an all-day retreat. I ask them to think about how important our time together was and to reflect on what we did together – we did something important, we grew relationships, we asked hard questions, we learned new information. Those are important steps in changing and working towards a more racially equitable future. When I ask people to reflect, I remind them our brains are primed to remember challenges, hard stuff, and unpleasant encounters – this is a survival mechanism from dinosaur times (maybe not the technical terms, but it helps to paint the picture). By intentionally pausing to reflect on a moment of gratitude we’re priming our brains to want to gather again and reengage. This is important for creating a new future.
Only after we’ve shared our gratitude for our time together then we go into logistics like scheduling or clean-up.
Closings like openings to a meeting are a place for everyone to create a shared sense of belonging. End how you started, by inviting people to be in relationships with each other not with the tasks. Thank you for taking the time to be part of the conversation and I hope you create a new way to close your meetings.
Why I wrote this is to provide another meeting tool to create more belonging and inclusion for people of color in meetings. While it doesn’t explicitly name race, I hope it provides another tool to layer with other facilitation designs to center and create belonging for POCs.
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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.