Beams, joists, window and door headers are all part of framing a house. I once had a builder’s license and a building company. Framing is also a necessary part of effective conversations, meetings, and leadership.
In building, framing is the process of creating the structure. As you watch it go up, it creates the outlines of the rooms. It’s the skeleton of the house. It’s the same in conversations and meetings. Framing creates the context, and the structure.
I work regularly with a small leadership team that has trouble with framing. It’s as if they start to put up a wall in the kitchen, then run over to a window in the bedroom, then try to install a faucet back in the kitchen while someone else is trying to landscape. Then they run back to straighten u the kitchen wall. You can imagine that it’s not very efficient. It’s hard for people to know what’s going on. It’s hard to make progress.
If you were to look at them what you’d see is someone introducing a problem and an opinion on it. The next person gives an opinion on a related but separate problem, and the third person goes back to a different solution on the first problem. They make a lot of statements, they don’t build on one another’s comments, they offer lots of solutions without having agreement on what problem to solve.
How can you work on framing?
Agendas: For your next meeting, create a very careful agenda. For each item you are going to talk about, know what action is needed. Do you need a decision and if so, by when? Do you just need to share information? Do you need to brainstorm possibilities?
Defining tasks and actions: When you begin each topic, announce what action will be the goal of that topic. Set some boundaries, some context about the topic and what will be part of the discussion as well as what will not be part of the discussion. That is part of your framework. Don’t begin to build a bedroom and end up with the kitchen cabinets in it by mistake.
Timing: Most meetings have time limitations so know how much time you want to devote to each issue. Announce approximately how much time you will be spending on that topic when you begin. That is part of your framework.
If you find you are spending more time than you allotted, you can make an intentional choice whether to allot more time and if so, where else on the agenda to take it from. If you decide you want a bigger bathroom, you may need to steal space from your bedroom, but do it on purpose, not by mistake.
Decision process: If there is a decision to be made, make sure you are clear about who gets to make the decision. Is it you? Is it the group? Will it be consensus or majority rule? If the group makes a decision, and more information is received later, how will the decision be reconsidered? Will you, as leader, make that call? If so, let people know, and know why.
This applies even in individual conversations. How much better it would be if someone approached you with “I’d like to have a thoughtful discussion with you about the possibility of my having a raise,” than “Boss, we need to talk.” Or even worse, having your spouse say “Honey, we need to talk.”
Framing the purpose helps the other person or people prepare. It sets boundaries around what will and what won’t be talked about. It gives clarity to you and to others.
A good house can’t be built without a good strong frame. A good meeting or conversation needs the same attention to structure.
When is your next meeting? How can you strengthen the framing?