A Magical Meeting Story from David Plouffe, a changemaker and heritage planner for the City of Calgary.
Welcome to Magical Meetings Stories, a series where I chat with professional facilitators, meeting practitioners, leaders, and CEOs across industries about their meeting culture. We dive deep into a specific magical meeting they’ve run, including their approach to facilitation design, and their tips and tricks for running meetings where people thrive.
Today’s story is with David Plouffe, a heritage planner from Calgary, Canada. David has worked for the city of Vancouver and Calgary at various levels of public service for the past 23 years.
I spoke with David about What is Delight and Why We Should Care, the reason behind it, and what he is most proud of.
In February 2021, David got the idea to start a Mug Club that centers delight. The initial inspiration came from the NPR program, This American Life, and Ross Gay’s series of essays, The Book of Delights. The essays are essentially a study of joy on how we can be kinder to each other. The book features the small joys most of us overlook as we get lost in the stress and routines of our daily lives.
In public service, kindness and joy go a long way. While the work of a public servant can be taxing, David was determined to discover what brings those in his field delight and joy and how to engender more delight in public service. Essentially, this delight-centered Mug Club seeks to pull the extraordinary out of the ordinary.
To center delight in these meetings, David focuses on two questions:
- How do we bring delight into the work that we do?
- Why should we care that we bring delight to the 1.3 million citizens of Calgary?
Let’s take a closer look at David’s process to learn what made this meeting magical.
In a What is Delight and Why Should We Care meeting, the main goal is to develop a “delight” muscle: to find delight and joy in the public service profession and identify why participants should care to do so.
One month before:
The facilitator and the tech team work together to formulate the structure and flow of activities for the upcoming meeting. The goal is to create a shared language and identify questions that facilitate a conversation about delight in the public service sphere.
One week before:
The facilitator sends three articles and related questions to encourage a common language amongst participants.
- No recordings
- Read articles a week before the meeting
In this meeting, the facilitator will choose the following:
- Location: Held virtually
- Participants: Any member of the team can participate
- Tech support: To ensure the virtual meeting is flawlessly executed
- Microsoft Teams
- Open and vulnerable conversation
- Identifying how delight surfaces in public service and how it impacts the community
In a What is Delight and Why Should We Care session, David opens the invitation to all 16,000 people that work for the City of Calgary. Anyone can participate, whether it’s someone in senior leadership or a first-year new employee. In this particular meeting, 30 to 40 people participated, most of which were in middle management from various departments.
Plan the Workshop:
- Length of time: 50 minutes (8:05 am – 8:55 am)
- Answer prompts pulled from articles
- Share stories around delight
- Use the “chat” feature to share links, gifs, and memes
- Discuss three “delight” articles
- Prompt discussion with two-three questions
- Identify a common purpose
- Identify similarities/differences around delight
- Consider the larger audience
- Delightful ideation: identify ways to continue the conversation around delight
Before the Opening
15 minutes before the meeting starts, David suggests the facilitator practice meditative breathing. This helps the facilitator prepare to host an engaging session.
The initial goal of a What is Delight and Why Should We Care meeting is to create a shared language around delight. The facilitator kickstarts the discussion with two or three questions related to the required reading.
David invites all City of Calgary employees to participate and focus on big picture issues, welcoming individuals from different workgroups with various levels of expertise to join. David encourages participants to brainstorm on how they can improve the city as public servants by centering joy and delight. In these sessions, topics such as paving the roads, setting recreation programs, and similar issues are addressed.
David finds that the participants of his monthly What is Delight meetings are excited to speak with each other and share their thoughts:
“People are energized. They’re maybe even pent up, that they’re wanting to express their ideas, their thoughts, to ask questions, to see people that they might not have seen all month.”
As David facilitates, he works alongside one other person that pays attention to all tech concerns, such as observing what happens on the chat, noting related questions, monitoring the expressions and hands up, and providing general tech support.
Towards the middle of the meeting, the facilitator identifies a common purpose amongst participants. Guests share their ideas of delight and identify similarities and differences.
David encourages active listening as the participants answer the titular questions, “What is delight?” and “Why should we care?” During this phase of the meeting, participants are encouraged to be vulnerable and share new ways of looking at delight.
Flexibility is a key component during this phase as participants explore the big picture around the idea of delight and how it shows up in public service. At this point, guests may use the chat function in Microsoft Teams to share gifs, post links, and use memes to convey ideas.
As the meeting comes to a close, the facilitator will encourage the participants to consider ways to carry delight to their larger audience. This stage consists of ideating ways to keep delight at the center of their focus outside of the meetings.
David ends the What is Delight sessions by encouraging participants to continue the conversation around delight to their audience of stakeholders, community activists, and colleagues. In February 2021, the What is Delight session culminated in the creation of a new “Delight Experiment” Teams channel to further conversation.
Though the Delight Experiment was designed for one month, it’s still running eight months later. This delight channel serves as a way for the city employees to center delight in their personal and professional lives, prompting over 80 people to continue the conversation in between each What is Delight session.
The Delight Experiment
Balance, flexibility, and vulnerability are key components of the What is Delight and Why Should We Care meetings. David notes that pairing the three-part structure of the meeting with the freeform ideation phase allows for vulnerability and meaningful conversation amongst participants.
As the meetings continue, David hopes that more of the senior leadership team will enter this conversation. The invitation to the What is Delight meetings are open to all, and he hopes those further up in leadership will join in in the near future.
In David’s effort to answer What is Delight and Why Should We Care through his monthly Mug Club, he discovered the joy in centering delight daily. In his efforts to stimulate the ongoing search for delight in the public service sphere, David is most proud of the Delight Experiment channel as it is still going strong.
“A single meeting around the idea, ‘What is delight?’, has prompted over 80 people to continue the conversation every day about what brings them delight, why we should care, and how we bring delight into the public service, and that helps us as the citizens of Calgary.”
Do you have your own Magical Meeting Story to tell?
We’d love to hear your wizardry! Share how you are creating magical moments in your work below.