October 26, 2023

Book Review: The Art of Gathering

Continuous Improvement
Linshuang Lu, MSOD

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

As someone who frequently facilitates meetings for a living, it's rare to find a book on the topic that provides fresh perspectives and practical guidance. Priya Parker's "The Art of Gathering" was a delightful surprise.

Parker posits four core foundations of an effective gathering: specific purpose, generous exclusion, generous authority, and explicit norms. A specific purpose forces us to clarify what we hope to accomplish, rather than resorting to generic categories like staff meeting, annual retreat, or happy hour. Generous exclusion counterintuitively promotes stronger inclusion, through being deliberate about whom we invite. Generous authority might mean taking charge at a meeting, asking someone to shorten an introduction dragging into a speech, or redirecting a distracting debate between two people. It seeks not to control, but to serve the whole group and the purpose of the gathering. Finally, articulating explicit norms—especially when they differ from other gatherings—can improve how people interact.

Parker then goes through each stage of a gathering: advance priming and preparation, the opening moments, the creation of authentic and vulnerable interaction, "good controversy," and deliberate endings. For each stage, she shares underlying principles and provides practical examples of what to do. The book is filled with stories that make Parker’s principles easy to understand and shows plenty of humility by sharing examples of gatherings gone poorly.

These principles apply equally to a Monday morning operations huddle, an annual department planning meeting, or an all-employee celebration. Yet Parker's book isn't only work-focused. All kinds of gatherings can benefit: weddings, memorial services, even dinner parties with friends and family. So much research on happiness highlights the importance of regular connection with friends and family, and thoughtful gatherings can facilitate long-lasting, meaningful relationships.

This is a wonderful book for anyone looking to strengthen the quality of gatherings in their life, whether work or personal.

Linshuang Lu

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