Belly Button Meeting Tips

Belly Button Meeting TipsWe get hired to moderate and facilitate a lot of meetings. Sometimes they are annual strategic workshops. Sometimes they are customer co-creations. They range from strategy to innovation and every combination between the two poles.

Some of the most telling is the meetings that explore a potential growth area for a business. Many organizations cannot summon the objectivity to lead a growth-centered meeting without it devolving into a morass of recycled pet agendas, painful ghosts of history, and some thick biases. At least they hire out to maintain focus.

You can tell a lot about an organization about how they approach the concept of new growth.

The real litmus tests: do they look backward or forward?  Internally focused or market focused? Asset focused or focused on how they are solving problems for customers? How does the conversation pivot on its own volition?

Do they apply hindsight and tell you why it hasn’t worked in the past? Or, do they apply foresight with a sense of possibility?

While some looking back and discussing what worked in the past and why is natural, spending half a day or more reliving history can be demoralizing, even crippling. We call these Belly Button Meetings because they are simply navel-gazing at the corporate level. Luckily, we have some tips on how to focus on the present and future—and how to moderate against this destructive tendency:

  1. Start fresh. Begin with a Throat Clearing Exercise. Have them create an entirely new business that goes after the same target, but freed from the corporate constraints and history.
  2. Lessons learned and necessary changes. Then, have them map what lessons they can apply to a new opportunity. What changes must be made to succeed? What barriers will prevent them from winning in the market?
  3. Rank the actions as priorities. Have the team rank the priorities of actions distilled from the lessons exposed above.
  4. Have them rank this particular opportunity. Smart companies like to think of a portfolio of growth opportunities, option value if you will. Given their array of options, have them rank this one according to both the growth potential if they can seize the moment and also according to the stated corporate strategy.
  5. Redirect. If every response starts with a history lesson and an explanation of how-we-got-to-here, be gentle but firm. Redirect the team into thinking of growth opportunity with a growth mindset, an adaptive and attractive option.
  6. Logical extreme. If multiple redirects do not break the curse of the past—the Belly Button fixation—then have the group address all of the reasons why the organization will never be able to lead in that category. This strong medicine tends to awaken even the most dazed dwellers of yesteryear and snap them into the present. No one wants to lose.

Once you have their full presence, the group will be in a mindset to think about creating new value in new ways.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.

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