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August 26, 2022

Staff Meetings

By David A, Hoffman

Does anyone actually enjoy staff meetings?

Perhaps some people like them more than others.  But at Boston Law Collaborative we have been trying to make our staff meetings – held once each week at lunchtime since we were founded in 2003 – both productive and enjoyable.

The heart of our meetings is checking in.   We do a go-around, in which each person takes a turn sharing something about their current work and (if they wish to) something about what’s going on for them in their life outside the office.

The work-related part of the check-in might be about a challenging case, a new development in the law, or a creative settlement idea.  We try to educate each other.

The non-work part of the check-in enables us to learn more about each other as people – to see each other more three dimensionally and, on occasion, to help each other with life’s challenges.  In recent meetings, we have learned that:

  • One of us has a child who struggles with mental health issues
  • One of us danced in “The Nutcracker” as a child
  • One of us played the role of a corpse in an independently produced film
  • One of us has a family member who fought a coyote to save the family dog
  • One of us likes to explore abandoned buildings
  • One of us knows Disney World like the back of her hand

Once the check-in is complete, we address any topics that need discussion, which could be planning for trainings and workshops, taking a stand on climate change, or something mundane, such as our computer system.

Recently we have added two new features to our meetings.  First, we now have a rotating facilitator – the goal is for everyone to take a turn.  Second, instead of diving in with our weekly check-in as the first order of business, we now start with a quick connecting question that each of us responds to.  (We got this idea from working with a wonderful organization, Essential Partners, where this is often a feature of meetings that they facilitate.)  Some recent connecting questions have included:

  • Favorite movie ever?
  • Your most influential role model?
  • What was your dream occupation growing up?
  • If you could travel back in time to another era and place, what would it be?
  • Best piece of advice a parent or grandparent gave you?
  • What is something that always makes your smile?

These prompts are sometimes humorous, and reliably elicit interesting responses.

All of this interaction is on Zoom and has been since the pandemic began.  Before the arrival of Covid-19, we met in person – usually in our Boston office.

When the pandemic hit, we (like everyone else) felt like the world had been turned upside down.  Instead of meeting in person, we met via Zoom at lunchtime – every weekday – to compare notes and share ideas on how to cope with the crisis.  How will we handle our clients’ cases?  How will we manage our own lives?  How can we protect ourselves from the virus?

After a few weeks, we no longer needed to meet daily, and so we shifted to three days a week, and then twice weekly – all via Zoom.  Now, we have returned to our once-a-week schedule (but still via Zoom), and that seems to be enough.  But, as one of my colleagues said, “seeing the faces of all of my colleagues during the beginning of the pandemic was a huge source of comfort to me, especially when we were all in lockdown and isolation.”

And Zoom staff meetings have had a silver lining: with one of our offices in Wellesley and the other in Boston, it’s been easier logistically for all of us to attend.  In fact, we might continue using Zoom – for some or all of our staff meetings even after the Covid risk recedes.

The Covid crisis has underscored for us the importance of these weekly meetings.  The main purposes of our staff meetings are (a) to share ideas and information about our work and our cases, and (b) equally important, to get to know each other better, thus fostering a sense of community and connection.  The first of those two goals is what makes the meetings productive; the second makes them enjoyable.

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