Daily Debrief Meetings & Family Dinners
If there’s one universal lesson we learned last year, it’s how to work from one place, while pursuing the same goals that you had when you worked from somewhere else. You could be a multi-millionaire owning your own CPA firm or a third grader owning nothing but hand-me-down Pokemon cards, nearly everyone in the country quickly learned what Zoom is. It used to be called telecommuting or working remotely, then we were slapped in the brain with WFH (or as my teacher friends call it WTF… educators can be equally stymied by technology as they are with acronyms).
Some of us only had to Zoom to work for a couple weeks, others were stuck in their kitchen-slash-home-office for a year, while others were labeled “essential” and actually wore pants to work every day.
No matter what category you fit into, another lesson many of us have learned over this past year is that the list of essentials for human survival is WAY longer than the CDC, WHO, or NIAID can define. Sure, we need air, food, water and shelter. But, just like Tom Hanks needed Wilson, we all need companionship… and no, Easter and Christmas celebrations via Facetime don’t cut it. We need physical contact. We need hugs, not elbow bumps. We need to see each other’s smiles and hear one another’s voices without Bane-like filters. And when I say “we”, I don’t mean just those of us who used to meet around the water cooler. I mean all of us – even… no especially… our children.
They need genuine human contact with their peers, their teachers, their coaches, their family… even the strangers they see at Target. There are basic human interaction skills that we all have gone so many months without using that they’ve become atrophied. Little things like how to read one another’s facial nuances, the importance of eye contact and greeting people with a smile, and the significance of introducing yourself to someone with a firm handshake.
One of the most overlooked and under-appreciated connection points we once enjoyed was “Take Your Kid To Work Days”. You remember… way, WAY back when, when we would take our tykes to the office, introduce them to our colleagues and show them what it was we did when we disappeared for those 8-10 hours everyday – those brief moments that we weren’t nagging them to clean their rooms, do their homework or stop bugging their siblings.
But, how could we pull off “take your kid to work”, when work is just down the hallway? (And do so without chaining them to your desk chair and making their bored faces part of your virtual background.)
Here’s a trick… and you don’t need a pandemic to make it happen: Transform your dinner table into your debrief conference table.
Consider this: No matter how little sense it may make, if your CEO schedules a mandatory debrief meeting for everyone in your department to attend, you would make it a priority to be there, be prepared to participate, and perhaps even take a leadership role, right? Or, more appropriately, if YOU are the Executive, and you call this meeting, you would definitely expect everyone to be there and to be prepared, right?
In the same way, if you make the family dinner table your family conference table, you – first of all – YOU must make FAMILY DINNERS a priority. You can’t expect your family members to put dinner on their front burner and be active participants if you don’t lead by example. Imagine if your executives scheduled weekly meetings and then never attended… it wouldn’t be long before everyone else stops attending, or it becomes nothing more than a scheduled brain break. HOWEVER, if you show up to the family conference table with something to share, in terms that your entire team can relate to and with strategies and opportunities to engage every person around the table – just like in the boardroom – you will have a successful discussion.
This means that family dinner time must be a priority – as high as any other meeting on your calendar. Now, I’m not saying that a gourmet dinner has to be prepared nightly. I’ve had engaging business discussions over meals served with cloth napkins, bagels and lattes, donuts, or food-free crammed into an office the size of a shoebox. There’s too much to worry about in life than to stress out over what main dish, side dish and beverage pairs well with family discussions. Bowls of cereal work just as well as filet mignon.
But as I was saying, you simply HAVE to make family dinner time a priority, and you have to let your family know that it’s a priority. You’ll be amazed at how contagious this mindset will become, and in a short time, this dedicated family time will become an expected routine rather than “Dad’s weird and uncomfortable passing fancy”.
And, when I say “come prepared with something to say”, I don’t mean a monologue. Come prepared with open ended questions to ask around the table. Yes, there are family devotions available out there to buy or download. But, it doesn’t even need to be that structured. It can be as simple as “What was your high and low points of your day?”
And, just like in corporate life, leading by example often means delegation. Find opportunities for your up-and-comers to take the lead. This can begin with simply having the kids set the table: pour drinks, gather the condiments, lay out the plates and silverware, or here’s something novel – cook dinner for the family! Then, it could be as subtle as asking your third grader to lead the dinner prayer, and the conversation can roll from there.
And, if the only feedback you receive are eye rolls, grunts or “nothing” when you ask, “How was your day?”, then lead by example. Tell your family about your day: what made you laugh, what made you frustrated, who did you interact with… Just be careful that this doesn’t turn into your personal “Festivus Airing of Grievances” session. Be honest, but be constructive. Be informative and remain engaging. Guide the discussion while allowing room for levity and even a little chaos.
In the midst of this chaos, though, in the same way that you may become beyond bored hearing about all the sus moves in Among Us or the intricacies of why someone blew up the obsidian but left the cattle untouched in Minecraft, you need to consciously cater YOUR OWN stories from your day to their interest levels – their vocabulary.
The bottom line is this: In our families, we want each of us to care for one another. We want our kids to know that we care about them and what’s going on in their lives. We want them to care for one another (assuming you have more than one kid… or a kid with an imaginary friend), and even though we may not want to admit it, we want our kids to reciprocate and care about us. And, there’s no better way to express all that than around the family conference table… over tacos (or pasta, or lemon chicken… whatever is on the menu).
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