Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Virtues of the "Pile-on Meeting" at HGTV, Food Network, and Travel Channel

In this week's New York Times Corner Office interview, Adam Bryant interviewed Kathleen Finch, chief programming officer of HGTV, Food Network and the Travel Channel.  Finch describes a particular technique she uses to generate great ideas at her networks. She calls it the "pile-on meeting."  Here's her explanation of this method: 

I have a meeting every few months that I call a “pile-on meeting.” I bring about 25 people into a room and go over all the different projects that are coming up in the next six months, and the goal is that everybody piles on with their ideas to make those projects as successful as they can be.  The rule walking into the meeting is you must forget your job title. I don’t want the marketing person just talking about marketing. I want everyone talking about what they would do to make this better. It is amazing what comes out of those meetings.

I like the concept a great deal.  I would point out that several conditions must be present to insure that such a meeting is highly effective.   First, the leader has to establish a safe environment where everyone, regardless of position or title, feels safe speaking up.  Second, people have to adopt the "yes, and" philosophy... building on each other's ideas, rather than always being critical and poking holes in other's proposals.  Third, when people do critique others' ideas, they have to be constructive.  They can't attack people personally.  They must focus on the issues, not the personalities.  Moreover, they have to encourage the generation of new options, rather than just attacking the existing ideas.   Finally, the leader has to enforce the shared norms, the rules of engagement.  If people become to parochial, or they simply defend the interests of their functional area, the leader needs to call them on it.  That need not be done publicly, but enforcement of the group norms must take place.  

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