If the world learned anything from the hit musical Hamilton it’s that there’s something appealing about being in “the room where it happens.”
The Aaron Burr character sings the song with those lyrics. It was a creative way for writer Lin-Manuel Miranda to imagine and then describe an historic but private conversation between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. As the United States was being formed, us those leaders met secretly and reached a compromise over how America would organize its finances and where it would put the federal capital.
“No one else was in the room where it happened,” sings Burr in the play. “No one really knows how the game is played. The art of the trade. How the sausage gets made. We just assume that it happens.”
Like Burr’s character, most of us want to be there when big decisions are made in our organizations; we want to be in the room where it happens. During the pandemic, however, we had to shift a bit and hope that we might be in the “Zoom where it happens.”
In reality, of course, we were more likely to find ourselves in rooms – and Zooms – where not much was happening. The group wasn’t always making major decisions and, in fact, our full attention and input often weren’t that needed. We didn’t need to take notes. We didn’t need to weigh in. We just needed to listen closely enough to be informed.
How did you handle those meetings?
I confess there were a few virtual meetings in which I gave myself permission to multitask. That’s code for “do something else while still staying semi-involved.”
I wouldn’t do this in meetings where I was expected to engage in the conversation, but there were times during long meetings when my only role was to watch and listen. So I would turn off my video feed, mute my microphone, and watch/listen to whoever was speaking while also doing something unrelated. I wasn’t doing my taxes or juggling chainsaws – things that might prevent me from still paying attention – but I could, for instance, work on my putting using the miniature practice green in my office.
I’m told I wasn’t alone in pursuing such activities. Some people played online games, checked their social media feeds, did housework, purged their inboxes, or exercised. And some, of course, did things they shouldn’t have done, including a few folks who forgot to mute their microphone or turn off their video feed.
What about you? Did you sneak a few “other activities” into some of your Zoom meetings? More importantly, did you find that multitasking helped or hindered your productivity? Feel free to fess up in the comments section!
With more meetings taking place in person again, it’s worth remembering that you might need to break some habits you developed during Zoom meetings. Don’t show up at the conference room wearing shorts and bunny slippers, for instance. And if a presenter is droning on about something of little interest, don’t start working on your putting game. Whether we are in a real room or a virtual meeting, however, we can’t take for granted that we can’t add or gain value in some way. For that, we have to pay enough attention to recognize something we can learn or to see an opportunity for something to share. In my experience, the best way to get in the room where it happens is to make something positive happen in the room that you’re in.