Beyond the Cards: A Poker-Inspired Lesson on Team Meeting Engagement

I never imagined what my poker-playing father-in-law would teach me about team meetings.

On a recent visit, my 85-year-old father-in-law was talking about how he hadn’t been able to play poker for a while. Then something he said really caught my attention:

“Poker isn’t about watching your cards, it’s about watching the other people.”

I sat up on the couch. Why did that resonate ? Instead of a poker game I saw a project team meeting, each person intent on their computers, their data, what they were going to say next. Like they were looking at their own cards all the time.

Any functional expert on a project team should know their “hand” but that’s not all you are expected to do.

I’ve been that person in a meeting with my head down, unable to tear my attention away from my own area of expertise and my own point of view. Maybe I was anxious about having to present or that my information wouldn’t be well received. I’d review my own “cards” over and over again. 

Over time, I learned to split my attention between the content I brought to the meeting and what other people were doing or saying, and what the general sense was in the room. I listened better, gathered new information, and responded to what was actually going on, not what I thought should be.

To look up and pay attention beyond your expertise requires confidence that you know your field and will be able to contribute when the time is right.

But you’re at the table for a reason, right? Go ahead and play.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

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