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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp

In this episode, Damon sits down with Priya Parker, master facilitator, and author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters.

Priya provides listeners with a masterclass in the art of gathering. Here are some of the questions you might have about your work meetings:

  • Have you wondered if your meetings were serving the right purpose?
  • Have you questioned whether the right people are in the room?
  • Do you worry that the way you gather at work is impacting someone’s ability to feel like they belong?

Don’t worry, these questions are being asked at every level of organizations around the world right now. Priya will lay the foundation for how to gather, why to gather and what we can do to make our gatherings more meaningful.

Damon and Priya also analyze some famous examples of workplace culture in the form of Ted Lasso and Succession to learn what they can teach us about gathering.

By the end of this episode you’ll also learn the difference between a conversation and a gathering and why you need to find the deepest need of your gatherings to truly create a meaningful experience.

To hear from more Culture First Leaders like Priya Parker make sure that you register to join us at Culture First.

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Episode transcript

DAMON KLOTZ:

All right. So today on the Culture First podcast, I'm joined by Priya Parker. Now Priya, when people look you up online, they might learn things about you like that you're a conflict resolution strategist, that you're a facilitator and an author, but if a curious 10-year-old walks up to you and says, "Excuse me, Ma'am, what do you do for work?" How do you answer?

PRIYA PARKER:

I think I would say something like I help people fight better.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Interesting. If this was a combative 10-year-old, they might have a lot of follow-up questions for you. So, if they said, "Ma'am, how do you help me fight better?"

DAMON KLOTZ:

How do you answer that?

PRIYA PARKER:

Well, I think this is one of the things I do. I think I would say, "I help groups of people be thoughtful about how they spend their time and have the conversations that sometimes adults avoid having."

DAMON KLOTZ:

And we are definitely going to be touching on that subject. But one thing that I thought might be nice to kind of start with is just the power of the opening, which I know is really important to you in the first 5%. Something I think about a lot when it comes to employee experience or just designing an experience, designing an event, or even just designing a conversation, I think getting the first 5% is just so critical. And I wanted to spend the first 5% here with you with some gratitude, if that's okay with you.

PRIYA PARKER:

Sure.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So a couple of things I wanted to sort of, I guess, show some gratitude towards is that actually your book, The Art of Gathering, is actually the most gifted book I've ever given out.

PRIYA PARKER:

Wow.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So firstly, I just wanted to say thank you for writing it.

PRIYA PARKER:

Wow, that is so lovely. Thank you.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. My first ever corporate job was actually in a learning and development department and I learned the art of facilitation and I'm a trained facilitator. And through community building and all the different work I've done over the last sort of 15 years, I guess just the experiences that we can create for people is just so powerful. And I feel like so much of what I've been thinking about your book actually ended up putting into words for me. One of the stories I wanted to sort of share in this opening with you is that I've had this practice that a lot of the people who know me call it Why Are We Here, Why Are We Here practice. And I do this a lot at events and it's basically saying, "Why are we here?" And I talk about whatever the gathering or the container is.

DAMON KLOTZ:

But then secondly, why are we physically here? And I think the most powerful experience I had doing this was at an event in Australia where we brought together a series of a group of like chief people, officers from all these different companies. And we took them into the Blue Mountains outside of their typical environment. And I did the Why Are We Here? Why Are We Here? And some people found it really, really powerful. And other people reminded me that words really matter because we described it as an intimate gathering. And it was so funny that like the word intimate just meant something very different to us. So like at Culture, we were like, "This is such an intimate gathering. It's 90 people. Typically, our events are like hundreds or thousands." And then some people were like, "When you invited me to an intimate gathering, I thought there was going to be 12 of us sitting in a circle."

PRIYA PARKER:

That's such a lovely example, that words have power, but also so does context. And so you can use the same word and we hear it completely differently based on our mental models or cultural models or past experiences that also use that same word choice.

PRIYA PARKER:

It's so lovely to hear both that you find my book relevant. I wrote the book in part to help non-facilitators kind of learn what the rest of us are taught to do. And in part, because so much of the kind of hosting or gathering advice, at least in the US where I'm based, focuses on kind of outsourcing the wisdom I'm gathering to experts on things, or on the things of the gathering. So chefs, or if you look in the bookshop, the food aisle is sort of all about gathering and hosting, or lighting or floral design. And I wanted to write a book kind of for people to think about how to actually create connection across people, between people. And so I'm delighted, truly delighted when a fellow facilitator also sees not just themselves in it, but perhaps another way to think about what so many of us have been trying to get a lot of people to do for a very long time.

PRIYA PARKER:

So thank you for that. And I love the, Why Are We Here? Why Are We Here? I almost wonder how many times one could ask that question and then how many ways one can answer that. But I think that exercise kind of gets to the heart of the art of gathering, which is asking and becoming more intentional about literally, physically, spiritually, politically why are we here?

DAMON KLOTZ:

It's definitely one of those onion questions. You can keep peeling back the layers and eventually, you kind of get to like the heart or actually purpose. And we'll certainly touch on that in our sort of next section.

DAMON KLOTZ:

But just to kind of wrap up this like opening section. The other thing that I wanted to sort of just share with you is that, I've been incredibly lucky to interview some of my sort of heroes in the people and culture space on this podcast before like the Esther Perels and the Simon Sineks. And when I do interview people that I know or know their work really well, I still do an incredible amount of background research. And I just want to say that the background research for this episode with you was actually one of my favorites, because you've been on three of my favorite podcasts of all time. And some of them actually recently.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So you've had a couple episodes on Brene Brown, which are [inaudible 00:05:52] on Brene Brown's podcast, which I highly recommend people to listen to. But the other two is Hurry Slowly and On Being. And On Being was just so special because I actually, I spent most of my career as like a keynote speaker and someone who was very much like, "Listen to me people. Like I've got the answers." And then more recently, I've switched in this... hosting this podcast for the last few years to actually, it's not about necessarily my thoughts, but it's actually, the term that I've borrowed from Krista Tippett, is being a generous listener, and actually showing up with so much interest in you and your story and being so generous with how you think about the world that I want this to be one of the best interviews that you can ever be part of, just because of that, sort of that research and that listening.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And I just want to say that those three podcasts that you've been on were just some of my favorites. And I just wanted to sort of share that with you.

PRIYA PARKER:

Thank you. Thank you. Well, all three women in that case are extraordinary listeners and structures of conversation, and I think model leadership through how they create and contain a conversation.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Definitely. Definitely. And I've only got two books on me. No, three books on me like right now, because I'm not currently at my home. I have meditations by Marcus Aurelis, I have your book, and I also have Krista Tippett's book about sort of the art of living, which is just three very powerful reminders.

DAMON KLOTZ:

We can sit here and talk about books all day, but that's not what we're going to be here to talk about. We're going to be talking about the art of gathering and how we come together. And I thought maybe to start this conversation, we should talk about the category and purpose of this podcast. And I know that you define a gathering as needing to have three people, but I always feel like I'm trying to hold space for my listeners in this conversation and that they count as a third person. So would you agree that this could be a gathering or is this just a conversation?

PRIYA PARKER:

I think podcasts are a very interesting format of gathering, in part because there are multiple gatherings over time. So there's you and I in this moment. And in a sense, you are imagined the third leg of the stool, right, the listener. And then each listener accesses this conversation or this conversation between you and I, and it's through their presence, that it becomes a gathering. But different listeners listen at different moments in time, right? And so one of these gatherings, maybe somebody walking in the park in Adelaide and someone else may download this at another moment and they may be walking down the street in Brooklyn.

PRIYA PARKER:

And so podcast as a medium is a very interesting expansion, I think, of gatherings because the listener, I think, actually kind of consummates the gathering by their presence, but that different listeners are entering and exiting in different moments of time.

DAMON KLOTZ:

I love that. Yeah. And I think there's also one of the things that I try and encourage listeners to do, is like have their own conversations about these topics. And I actually had a listener share with me recently that one of my episodes actually encouraged a meeting or a gathering or a conversation inside of their workplace to discuss the actual topics from an episode and how that was showing up in their workplace. So I kind of see this as a potential gathering. But as we maybe defined this, we could say that the category of this gathering is a podcast interview, but I wanted to share with you the purpose, because I know that you really deeply believe in category and purpose and getting these things right. So can I share with you the purpose?

PRIYA PARKER:

Please.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So what I wrote was the purpose of this gathering is to have a deep conversation about what is worthy of our collective time in the workplace and how it should be structured. How does that sound?

PRIYA PARKER:

Beautiful. I'm ready.

DAMON KLOTZ:

All right. So let's lay the table for the art of gathering. I think it's really important to get some of the contextual pieces and have the definitions shared with our audience. I wanted to maybe start with your definition of gathering, sort of the function and need part of gathering, why people confuse category and purpose, and sort of the role of the host in generous authority. Because I feel like these are, like you said earlier, even though I've been a facilitator for my entire professional career, getting some of these terms right and sharing these definitions with other people has really helped me.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So let's lay the table with some of those. Maybe we can start with how you define gathering.

PRIYA PARKER:

I define gathering as anytime three or more people, so it's really about group life, three or more people come together for a purpose with a beginning, middle and end. And so gathering is really a unit of time that ends. To perhaps make a distinction, a gathering and a community are two different things. So gathering can create a sense of community and communities can have gatherings, but I'm really trying to make a distinction in this in almost a technical word of gathering because it's something that we are all doing all of the time before the pandemic, during the pandemic in a different form, and in this moment. And when we begin to look at it as a happening, as an event that we can actually shape, that's when we can actually begin to deconstruct the anatomy of what creates transformational gatherings, because we can actually see it as a unit that is shapeable.

DAMON KLOTZ:

I love that. Yeah. I feel like if someone was to do sort of a text analysis of every episode and transcript that I put out on the Culture First podcast, probably the word I use the most outside of maybe the title of the show is the word container. And I just deeply think about that word and like shaping containers for conversations, because like one of my little taglines is I truly believe that we're all one conversation away from changing the rest of our life. And I feel like getting the container out for that conversation is like why those conversations can be transformational.

PRIYA PARKER:

Beautiful.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So I think one of the things that's also good to define here is why people often confuse category and purpose. And how do you see this maybe playing out in the workplace?

PRIYA PARKER:

So one of the mistakes we make when we gather is that we assume that the purpose is obvious and shared. And because we assume that the purpose is obvious and shared, we don't pause and actually define what the purpose is for the gathering. We skip too quickly to form.

PRIYA PARKER:

So a board meeting, I joke one brown table, 12 white men. I mean, these are mental models in our head. A wedding, imagining somebody in a... depending on your culture, in a white dress or in a red dress, walking down an aisle or walking around in a circle. And because we skip too quickly to form or to category, we don't actually pause to ask what is the need here? And we start focusing too quickly on the form, who's bringing the... Where's the AV equipment going to come from? What the food going to be?

PRIYA PARKER:

And we conflate category and purpose. And so then we end up following forms and kind of standard protocols that may have been relevant to some community at some point, but may not actually be relevant to the need at hand. I mean, in the workplace, I gave this example in the book, when I wrote the art of gathering, I spent time beyond just beyond my own examples as a facilitator interviewing over a hundred types of gatherers in all types of contexts. So a World Cup hockey coach, a choir conductor, a board chair of a company, and asked them what and why... and they were all people who other people credited with creating transformative gatherings.

PRIYA PARKER:

And one of the things they all had in common, almost all of them, was that they didn't have lines in their head of what a gathering was supposed to look like. And one example in a workplace is from the New York Times. They kind of historically iconically had this meeting that it's called the Page One meeting. It was a meeting that was more than 50 years old. It was invented to serve a very specific need at a very specific time, which is to help the editors and the journalists decide every day what seven pieces of news should make the front page of the paper.

PRIYA PARKER:

And culturally and historically, this was at a time where what often was on the front page of the New York Times determined what policy makers were talking about the next day, determined what people were reading, determined the cultural context, was what went out on overall of the AP wires of like, this is what people should be thinking about today.

PRIYA PARKER:

And so as a meeting, it was an incredibly important, iconic meeting in the paper. It was conducted around what was described to me as almost a King Arthur like round table where the editors would come with their lowly offerings and offer it to the Olympic gods to decide their fate, this kind of really ritualistic, but very powerful meaning.

PRIYA PARKER:

And I remember hearing from journalists that when kind of on the first day or first week of being a Cub reporter, you were, one part of the orientation was you got to sit in on this meeting. Anyway, long story short, over the course of the '90s, 2000s, this small thing called the internet came to fruition. This website called nytimes.com popped up. And basically, over the course of two decades, the source of news changed for even how their own readers got the news. The majority of readers got it from the website, not the front page. Then they hit a mark where the majority of their own readers or people who read the New York Times didn't even come to the website. They access it through someone's tweet or through social media. And yet the most iconic meeting at the time was this kind of stodgy old meeting of the best kind of minds in the paper, arguing over what should be on the physical paper.

PRIYA PARKER:

And long story short, the new executive editor, Dean Baquet, came in and began to realize this is a ritual that people are very attached to, but it no longer actually meets the need of where we are as a paper and what we actually need to be discussing. And so he began to, over the course of a few months, shift the time of the meeting extract the decision of the pretty small decision now. I mean, not relatively within the context of what they're talking about to a separate meeting, invited more people to that meeting that wasn't just the editors, but the audio team, the consumer news team, different bureaus, different desks, and began to shift what the actual, the organ, the sort of the central nervous system in terms of the most important meeting at the time is, looks like, is for, the time of day, because he started to realize that they were actually arguing about the wrong thing, and that the nature of their work had changed. And so the meeting itself also has to change.

DAMON KLOTZ:

I love that story. And I remember when I first read it, because it really gets down to the heart of like, what is the deepest need of this gathering? And actually, while the meeting might have been formed around this idea of what gets printed on that front page, the deepest need of this gathering was actually like, how do we maybe make decisions about what's important? What is the impact of the decisions that we make? And actually feeling like thinking a little bit more deeply, less about what actually gets printed and actually more so how we are actually making some of these decisions and like, how does this information get out there?

DAMON KLOTZ:

I encourage everyone listening to really look for those moments of discovery when you find the deepest need of this gathering and actually ask some of those, what we were jokingly calling, onion questions earlier, about going that little bit layer deeper and deeper until you sort of really understand.

PRIYA PARKER:

And I may add to that. I mean, like absolutely, and that it's okay to actually not be totally sure what the highest use actually is. Like when I interviewed Dean Baquet for the book, I asked him, "So what is the purpose now? What do you think the purpose of this meeting should be?" And he basically said, "I think we need to figure out what is worthy of coverage and how do we cover it?"

PRIYA PARKER:

I mean, the mission of the New York Times, you can see it on the top left of the newspaper, or the website is, all the news that's fit to print. And so at some level, what he started to realize is this is a meaning in which at some level, where we're actually talking about what is news and what is fit.

PRIYA PARKER:

And so I mean, even the example I sat in on one of the meetings and even at some point, I remember the news of the day, someone said, "There's a new..." get the exact example, right, but there's a new study that came out about heart disease. It's a massive study and they're kind of making their pitch for it. It should get a notification, right? Meaning like if you sign up for notifications, it goes out to... it pushes out on everybody in the world who has a notification on for the New York Times.

PRIYA PARKER:

And then in the room, someone else said, "Yeah, but do we really want to get into the business of putting notifications of studies? What if another study debunks the study? Are we then going to issue a notification, a correction?" And on one hand, they were talking about a technical decision, but on the other hand, because of the ways... And Dean Baquet is the first person to say, they don't always get there, right? It's a practice to nourish. They don't always get there in the quality of the conversation, but they're actually asking, like, what's the purpose of a notification? This is a very new use. The technology has changed. The way people consume news has changed. Our ability to grab attention has changed. Like, what are the ethics of notifications?

PRIYA PARKER:

But rather than just kind of having those philosophical debates, he was creating a structure, so that through practical daily decisions, the key minds in the paper who should be thinking about this are able to practice thinking about the core questions of the paper as they emerge.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. Because there's an incredible amount of power with that decision, which is why understanding the true purpose of like when you actually send that is so important. And I think maybe one of the areas that people can get caught up in these meetings is really understanding like who has authority, who is the host. And I think one of the things that we experience in the workplace is that sometimes there's unwanted authority in a meeting, maybe there's the meeting Hijacker who completely like disregards the agenda and wants to just get their opinions put forward. And then there's also, sometimes, we get influenced by the highest paid person in the room's opinion.

DAMON KLOTZ:

I think these are just things that we experience in the workplace, but one of the things that you make really explicit is like that there's the role of the host and that the host needs to have generous authority when it comes to creating that container. Can you just share why that's such an important term?

PRIYA PARKER:

Sure. I mean, I think basically every group, every relationship, even between two people, but every group has power dynamics. And that's not a bad thing. Like I think the first kind of... When I'm working with leaders or organizations and someone says like, "We just want to have a nice meeting. We want power dynamics to not be in the room," I start laughing in part because like, power's not a bad thing. It's just something that happens when people come together, that at the simplest way for me to describe it in the context of a gathering is decision making. If we just say power is decision making, and that could be everything from, how should we spend this conversation, like to a group of colleagues saying, "Hey, where should we go for lunch?" And how does that decision get made? Is it the intern always decides, and that's the ritual, or is it, the boss always says it and everyone pretends to go with what she likes.

PRIYA PARKER:

But basically, if you think about gathering as a social contract, a constitution, if you will, of what is the purpose here and what are the rights and responsibilities of those involved, the host, the person who's convening this meeting has a responsibility to basically set up the power dynamics or create enough safety and integrity in the structure and across and within people so that the group can do its work.

PRIYA PARKER:

And so what do I mean by that super practically? Well, first of all, I define generous authority as the intentional use of a host's power for the good of a group to achieve its purpose.

PRIYA PARKER:

And in some context, that might be as practical as you have a orientation session for new employees, and it's a group of 10 or a group of 40 or a group of 80. And you start noticing that during the question round, the same two people keep asking all the questions, or keep answering all the questions, or keep wanting to kind of be heard.

PRIYA PARKER:

And because one hasn't created a norm ahead of time of how we're going to all interact, if you just let whoever happens to be raising their hand over and over and over again go, you're actually not protecting the rest of the group. So whether it's basically creating a container at one of the examples in the book, is the American political advisor, David Gergen. He used to run these kind of large... he may still, I'm not sure... large, they're called forums at the Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, and heads of state or different leaders, activists would come and speak to the students and to the community, and there'd be a thousand people in the room, or 1,500 people in the room.

PRIYA PARKER:

And the person would speak. And then David would be in charge of taking all the questions. And rather than just going up and saying, "Okay, questions?" He would say, "This is how this is going to work. There's mics moving around. We're going to try to get through as many questions as possible. And let me remind you that a question ends in a question mark. We don't have enough time to... We are here to hear the speaker speak, not each other speak. That's for a different time and place." And people would laugh.

PRIYA PARKER:

And then inevitably, almost every single time, a few people ask their questions and then there's always somebody who takes a deep breath and then just starts talking for two minutes. And rather than letting that person talk for two minutes, David will cut them off and say, "A question begins with a question. A question begins with a question. Let me remind you, a question begins with a question." And you can sort of see the audience tensing up and then kind of tittering and laughing because it's a little bit tense, but David is protecting the group and he's protecting the purpose of the group. And he understands what might actually seem mean or cruel or rude in the moment is actually protecting the integrity of the purpose, which is to allow as many people as possible to thoughtfully engage with the speaker.

PRIYA PARKER:

And that's that format for that forum. And that doesn't have to be the format for every forum, but in every time we meet or gather, when we orient our guests as to what are the rules and how can we best coordinate this group so that we can achieve our purpose, that is a generous act.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yeah. And I think when you were sharing that story, I know for me, like I was definitely picturing rooms that I've been in when I was like, "I wish someone had generous authority right now," because like, we're all watching it happen. And we're like, "This is not why we were here. And we're losing time. We only have half an hour for this conversation. This is critical, and it's just being sidetracked." I hope that was resonating with other people about why generous authority is so important.

PRIYA PARKER:

And I would just say, I think part of generous authority, so that you're setting your people up for success, is sharing in ahead of time, in the invitation, in your opening comments, really what the norms are or how this is going to work. And it can be playful. Like David Gergen uses a lot of humor in what he does, but you're not setting people up for success by kind of bopping them on the head when they've broken some unspoken norm. It's actually helpful when we make explicit... President Obama, when he was president, learned of a study, I'm told, that even in Harvard Business School, that I think is now majority female students, the male students are more likely to raise their arms, raise their hands and ask a question than the female students, even in a place that is kind of as gender paired as possible, gender.

PRIYA PARKER:

And he realized that the norms are so strong culturally and individually, that that is just a dynamic. And so when he learned that study, he used his power as a host in his press conferences and in union halls, any place he would go and like speak publicly during the Q and A, he would say, and you can see videos of him doing this, he would say, "I'm going to take a bunch of questions and we're going to go," and he used this language. I don't know if he'd use this language now. "We're going to go, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl."

PRIYA PARKER:

And people would kind of laugh or not laugh, just be surprised. And if no woman would raise their hand, he would wait. And it was his kind of one man crusade to use his power in a very specific way to try to counterbalance the gender dynamics he began to realize existed.

PRIYA PARKER:

And so there's a million ways to do this, but part of generous authority is the generosity to explain how this can go so that you're setting people up to understand what the rules of the road are for this moment.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And I think we're seeing that play out in virtual gatherings right now is that the host needs to be explicit with some of those things when it comes to not just saying "All right. Does anyone have any questions?" And just letting everyone sit there on mute and not knowing who should go, or the idea of pop-corning, like everyone goes and you pick the next person. Like there's little tools and we'll touch on this a little bit later, but yeah, that's such a powerful examples of generous authority.

DAMON KLOTZ:

But I wanted to switch gears now and focus on some of the gatherings that are happening right now inside of companies, especially around the collective reentry that we're all trying to navigate, the difference between work and place. And then at the end of this little section, I'd love to touch on your gathering makeover series and some of the learnings.

DAMON KLOTZ:

But right now, this conversation's happening every single day about in-person hybrid remote. And this is a really rare window for companies to redefine where, why, around what, and how they meet. And I feel like as organizational leaders around the world are trying to navigate this, maybe we can help them, and we can talk about how we gather in each of those settings and help them actually have better conversations. And maybe one of the conversations that they're having right now is about this re-entry to the workplace.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And I wanted to ask you this. You believe that the question, do you want to return to the office, is the wrong question to be asking right now. Why is that?

PRIYA PARKER:

Because it assumes that we are going back to something and that it assumes that we haven't, as individuals or as our entire assumption of what work is, is stagnant and hasn't changed and is sort of stuck like a time freeze in March 2020.

PRIYA PARKER:

So when we ask the question, "Do you want to go back?" First of all, it's a binary question and elicits one of two options, but it also ignores all that has been learned and invented during these last 16 months. And instead, I would ask, and you mentioned the gathering makeover, so much of what we did in that free public series was helping people reimagine and really have the conversations with their teams and within their companies to determine, for each group or each company, what might be right.

PRIYA PARKER:

I'll just share those four questions because I think they're incredibly helpful questions, but I also have seen that by asking them together in groups, a change process occurs through the experience of answering and sharing and comparing those answers. So instead ask, number one, what did you long for, or miss when we couldn't gather because of the pandemic, when we were only gathering virtually? Like, almost, when did you want to like push through the screen and wish you could just reach through or show somebody something? Or when were the moments where you just were so frustrated that you couldn't just kind of reach through the screen and, I don't know, put a post-it note on something, or be able to actually pull someone aside and not have everyone see in the same exact time or meet somebody in the hallway?

PRIYA PARKER:

The second, what didn't you miss during the last 16 months, and perhaps are ready to discard? The third, what was invented? What surprised you about how we gathered virtually, or in the pandemic, that you actually want to bring forward? And then fourth, what might we invent or experiment with now?

PRIYA PARKER:

And I think part of looking at companies and organizations kind of grappling, part of this is also around authority, and where should the decision lie? Should it be a hand me down decision, as Apple tried to do in June 2021 to say, "Okay, all employees are going to be back three days a week," or is it a virtual kind of first, or virtual heavy organization, like Dropbox has announced, but they are creating, as I understand that studios that any team can then decide when they want to meet in person, they can book a local studio.

PRIYA PARKER:

I mean, people are really experimenting right now. And I think that the opportunity people have is to actually think about which decisions should be company-chosen, what decisions should be team-made, and what decisions should be individual, and how do we as teams and as leaders begin to have the conversations that set the norms and boundaries for... Some of it's super practical.

PRIYA PARKER:

If 90% of the people are in the office and 10% are Zooming in or Microsofting Teaming in, or basically virtual, does everyone have to come in through their device for kind of equity, digital equity, or is that punishing those who are in person, and that the in-person group around a table will be in one screen, and the two people who are Zooming in will be on other screens? These are questions that are really up for debate, and there are trade offs in each. But part of the opportunity, I think particularly right now for HR professionals, is to begin to add some expertise to the conversation of best practices and give some guidelines to people so that there's actually distinction making in when and how we're meeting based on the need and where people are each time you meet.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And those trade offs are tough because in some ways, you might say, "Well for equity and inclusion, everyone needs to be on their own screen." And I've seen jokes about this already of people saying, "Office wanted me to come back for collaboration. And then the collaboration is just everyone on their own screen again on a Zoom, but they just happen to be in the same office." And then in some ways, maybe you're not actually valuing the time that the people have spent to get into the office to have that in-person connection.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So there's all these certain trade offs. And I think one of the things that really stood out to me, and then I think a lot of people are grappling with right now, is before we make one of these decisions, a lot of us are trying these like hybrid gatherings. And you actually described this as two simultaneous gatherings and that each one needs a digital host, and then in real life host. And each has to be mindful of their own group, or also being connected to this one experience we're having together. Do you think that there needs to be a facilitator that oversees the entire experience as well, as well as having what you call these like lighthouse facilitators who are responsible for their own containers?

PRIYA PARKER:

I think it depends on the need, which I will always say, and the purpose and the size and frankly the stakes of the gathering... and the ratios. I mean, I think that... so for example, if we're talking about 100 person like retreat or conference in the workplace, or all hands and 50 people are virtual and 50 people are in-person, and it's a high enough stakes gathering that people want it to go well, and that the experience of connection is incredibly important, then I would say there should... that in a way, it's almost like three gatherings. There's the physical. There's the group dynamic in the room. Then there's the virtual gathering... And someone paying attention, ideally someone with some amount of authority or legitimacy, kind of taking care of those.

PRIYA PARKER:

And then there's actually a third gathering, which is the hybrid gathering, which is paying attention to the connection and inter-stitching between the room and the digital folks. And sometimes, it's not necessary. Like you may just want to have two almost parallel processes where the people in the room can focus on their connection, and the people virtually can focus on theirs. But if there is a purpose to connect the two, say for example, you want to connect your globally remote staff with the people who are at headquarters, for example, then I would focus on, I'm making this up, but the first 10% of the meeting, creating virtual coffee sessions, where perhaps the people in-person take out their phone and have a chat with two people in a breakout room virtually, and then they put their phone away, and then they come back for the rest of the meeting and be in-person.

PRIYA PARKER:

So each of these are design choices, but it really depends on what the purpose of the meeting is, and then who the constellation of actors or guests or players are and how and why you want to connect them for what purpose.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And I think that's just a great example of showcasing how complex it can be to sort of think about like all the nuances of a gathering. But when you spend that time actually getting some of these things done upfront and really think about them, the entire experience is just way more powerful. And I remember a story that this is a very much like a finance salesperson sort of story, but someone's told me that like if eight people get together in a meeting for an hour, and then the meeting isn't useful, you've just wasted an entire day's worth of work. Please think about why you come together and the purpose of it before you ask eight people to spend an hour together.

PRIYA PARKER:

Totally. I mean, at the end of the day, this is really about care, right? It's treating the time that we have, the synchronistic time that we have, as the most precious resources we have. And I often say, people think the art of gathering like, "Oh, she's pro gathering." I'm actually not pro gathering. I'm pro discernment around gathering, and that if we treat this as a sacred and prime real estate, that often when we think about the thought that goes into it, we should probably be gathering better and less than kind of the default autopilot, just pull everyone in for every single reason and every single meeting, because we haven't fully thought through the need or the purpose and we don't want to leave anyone out because we can't actually defend what the purpose is, so we can't defend exclusion.

DAMON KLOTZ:

So we touched on the conversations that we need to be having at work and the gatherings that will help us actually really focus on the employee experience. Moving forward, I did want to spend a little bit of time on the conversations we avoid at work. And I thought to do this in maybe a little bit more of a fun way, I wanted to ask you first, have you watched these two TV shows? I think I know the answer to one of them, but I'm going to ask, have you watched Succession and Ted Lasso?

PRIYA PARKER:

I have. I'm not caught up on season two of Ted Lasso, but I have seen season one.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Okay. So I did see you sort of saying that [inaudible 00:38:36], and now I'm blanking on his name. What's his name?

PRIYA PARKER:

The brother. I mean the son, I'm forgetting his name as well.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Yes. The one who seems to have zero EQ. So you said that they should sit down for a conversation, but I won't do too many spoilers, but I wanted to maybe use these two workplaces as examples, because I kind of see Ted Lasso as a show where the implicit is explicit, where they make room for important conversations in the workplace. And Succession, on the other side, is like a show dedicated to like allowing watchers to be a fly on the wall where these gatherings of all sizes take place that seem to be lacking hosts. It's a constant battle for authority, and there's no clear purpose.

PRIYA PARKER:

Totally.

DAMON KLOTZ:

What have you found fascinating maybe about those shows and their respective company cultures when it comes to gathering?

PRIYA PARKER:

I mean, this is an awesome question. Thank you for asking it. What a lovely, lovely invitation. His name is Kendall Roy.

DAMON KLOTZ:

There we go. There we go. Yes.

PRIYA PARKER:

For those listeners screaming, "Kendall Roy. It's Kendall Roy." So I actually think the foil of these two shows is such an astute comparison. And in a sense, in Ted Lasso, I think the ways that he gathers, I think he's doing a couple of different things as a character. And I apologize. Just given our time, I won't summarize what the show's about. I mean, I guess it's basically is an American coach who is brought in to kind of pull together this British football team.

PRIYA PARKER:

One of the things that I see him doing again and again is first of all, I think the qualities as a host of what Ted lasso is doing. One is he's giving... He is seeing each of his guests and his guests being his football players, his soccer players. He is noticing each one. He's seeing what their needs are. He's telling them why they're there and what their deepest purpose and their values actually should be. He is elevating like... I'll analyze a couple of scenes that I thought were so interesting. And now it's been a while since I saw season one, but he has a, I think his Pakistani, kind of assistant coach and at sort of one point of the season... Okay. Spoiler alert, because I don't know how to analyze this if we don't actually talk about what happens.

DAMON KLOTZ:

Massive spoiler alert. Pause now.

PRIYA PARKER:

So there's this one scene where the assistant coach is basically saying like, "Hey, I wrote up some thoughts about each player. I think this is what you should tell them." And Ted Lasso first sees that there's merit, right? In a sense, his assistant coaches are sub hosts, technically. They have less power than he does as a head host. And he's empowering, he sees that his sub host is able to see a need in the group. And rather than doing it himself, he's pushing out his authority, he's sharing his authority to elevate the status of the junior coach. And he says, "You do it."

PRIYA PARKER:

And then there's this beautiful scene where this previously kind of quiet, and under the previous regime, water boy, like he was like in charge of the thermoses and refilling water cups, elevates and is able to... I mean, it's an interesting example where he basically goes around to every single player and he both says like what they're doing that works, and then he flips it and he basically calls them out on some element of their attitude or some element that's not working.

PRIYA PARKER:

And if you watch that scene, he builds energy in the group by both honoring and seeing what each person's doing. And then like embodies transgression, which is he's like... I can't remember exactly what he says, but for each person, he kind of insults them. But in that cultural context, that actually builds currency for the dweeby assistant coach and makes people realize like, "Oh my gosh, you're seeing me. You're seeing my behavior. I'm being watched. I'm being..." In each of those moments, the insults are equitable. I'm being a little facetious here, but there's a love in that, which is like every single person is being seen and like loved on and judged to improve.

PRIYA PARKER:

And I would say there's a second scene that I think is beautiful where Ted Lasso... this really is a spoiler alert. He has to figure out how to remove the curse of the soccer team. And he basically invents and makes up this ritual that is pretty profound to basically remove the curse of what happened to set that curse. And everybody has to bring, at midnight, in the dark, at a strange time of day, with risk, everybody has to bring a sacrifice, like an object of sacrifice that really means something to them.

PRIYA PARKER:

And on one hand, the story and the narrative... So there's a structure. There's equal participation. There's a belief that's shared and explained to say to relieve this curse, we actually each have to bring something that matters to us and burn it.

PRIYA PARKER:

But then while each person is willing to go and like show their object, they have to explain why they love the object that they have. My mother died, and this is the last thing she gave to me. My cousin wasn't able to be a football player and so the fact that I'm here and he's there means so much to me. And through the structure of the ritual, they're building the body of the group and they're building psychological safety because they're each sharing a part of themselves in a way that then they're saying, "I am interested in the release of this spell and I'm going to burn this thing that means something to me." And through that sacrificial ritual, they die and then they're reborn, right, metaphorically as a team.

PRIYA PARKER:

And Ted lasso and the writers of that show, I think in so many ways, first show a very different type of a host through embodying the values he hopes to create in his team. But there's a lot of thoughtful, invisible structure that I think as a coach, he keeps seeing and assessing with his assistant coaches, what's the need now? Where are the players at? What is it that we need to do in order to begin to shift what this group is and can be? And the foil... How was that?

DAMON KLOTZ:

That was amazing. I feel like we could have done the whole episode just analyzing Ted Lasso [inaudible 00:45:16]-

PRIYA PARKER:

Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Well, you're asking the right questions because clearly I'm like, "This is so interesting."

PRIYA PARKER:

And then Succession, you're totally right, it's the foil. It's all authority. It's all status. It's power consolidation in the father. I mean, it's sort of like... And then he sets up. I mean, he's a leader of chaos. He sets up within his family structure and then within his company structure, fear and loathing, but in part ambivalence, right? It's like Jo Freeman, the feminist scholar wrote this beautiful essay in the '70s or '80s called The Tyranny of Structurelessness and part of Roy Kendall... Wait, what's his name? Roy's senior's power is the tyranny of structurelessness and the tyranny of ambivalence. And he's able to maintain his power and status because he keeps everybody else off balance.

PRIYA PARKER:

And in some cases, in different seasons, like he turns up the volume so much that it's just cruel and so explicit, and these kind of hazing rituals of cruelty. But it's always, there's deep ritual and deep codes in that family system when they gather, whether it's around the Thanksgiving dinner or whether it's in their private airplane or their private jet. And the codes are basically that there is an authority figure and one does not fully know what might happen. And each person basically feels deeply unsafe and knows that... And that power in that system is proximity to the source in that moment.

DAMON KLOTZ:

And in some ways, I frame Succession as being this foil, because I feel like maybe there isn't structure or power, but I think there actually like what you brought up is that Logan Roy does actually think deeply about the container and he gives everyone this false sense of hope that they could be a co-host, that they could be the person who gets to like design the container with him. But like you said, like he's sort of like a master evil facilitator in so many ways because he knows how to play all these people against each other that allows him to continue to always have the power.

PRIYA PARKER:

Absolutely. And I think earlier I said people think I'm about gathering more. I think similarly, gathering is not good in and of itself. Gathering is a tool. It can be used for good. It can be used for evil. It can be used to make people feel connected. It can be made people to feel isolated. And gathering is a form of power. And with that power comes responsibility and care. And some of the greatest evil dictators in history were phenomenal gatherers.

PRIYA PARKER:

And so I don't come into this with a naive lens, but I do come into it by saying that it goes back to our earlier conversations. Like by wishing power away, you're doing no one any favors. We need to begin to understand how power is going to manifest in the groups that we are gathering and protect our guests and connect them and temporarily equalize them, and think about what it actually looks like, in a very practical way, to create gatherings that allow people to be seen and safe and then do their best work.

PRIYA PARKER:

I mean, gathering well is also an extraordinary process for creativity, for collaboration, for breakthrough science. It's not just about how you're making people feel. It's also about what human beings are able to discover and to build when they're able to interact in ways that are fruitful.

DAMON KLOTZ:

For everyone who's been listening, I think we've all got this now shared sense of understanding about the power of gathering, some of the terminology we should be thinking about, why they're important, and some of the conversations that maybe we avoid that we should be having. When it comes to just maybe some best practices or some things that you really want anyone listening to be thinking about when they plan their next gathering, what do you want to remind people of?

PRIYA PARKER:

Well first, thank you for having me. And if you remember nothing else as you're listening and walking to this podcast, first, don't skip the purpose. Don't skip defining the purpose every single time you plan a gathering or you're thinking about a gathering. And the more likely we think we know what the purpose is, the more likely we are not making it specific enough.

PRIYA PARKER:

So think about how to define what is the need every single time. And the more likely it's a recurring meeting or a meeting that people are doing all the time, the more likely the need needs to be more tightly defined. And then the way we open and the way we close matters. And so if you're creating a temporary alternative world every time you're gathering, how are you opening? What are you orienting people to? Are you playing a song or are you asking an opening question that connects the group? And then also, how do you close in ways that people remember what has transpired and have a sense of how they want to reenter into the world?

DAMON KLOTZ:

That's beautiful. And like I said, I tried to... Interviewing you and knowing how much you sort of impacted my thinking about this space, there was a lot of pressure to get this gathering kind of right, and think about it in a way. So I hope I was able to at least demonstrate some of the tools and techniques about gathering in this conversation for everyone listening as well.

PRIYA PARKER:

It was beautiful. And Damon, I've never been asked to analyze Ted Lasso and Succession. So fortunately, I had seen it, but to me, that was a beautiful example of using your power as a host to ask me a question that made me really have to think and not go over well worn ideas, but actually have to make me analyze in real time. It was beautiful. Thank you so much.

DAMON KLOTZ:

No worries. Yeah. When I think about the future of work and sort of my role here, I'm always looking at edge cases about how we can learn and improve the employee experience. So Priya, this has been an absolute pleasure. Maybe at the end of the Succession season, we can do another episode to analyze what went down and the art or the power of gathering within that.

PRIYA PARKER:

Well, thank you so much for having me, and gather well.

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