Meetings…the source of much misery and time-wasting in the workplace. When the topic comes up with clients, as it often does, my first question is.. “Why are you having a meeting in the first place? Can you get the results you need without having a meeting?” When a meeting is necessary, try these suggestions for making meetings enjoyable, engaging and productive:
- Set the stage. Is the purpose of the meeting clear? What is the subject and why does it matter? What will make this meeting meaningful for the group? What outputs do you want from the group? A lack of focus drains the lifeblood of any group, so will annoying debate. Send your attendees a brief of the topic, and questions well in advance of the meeting to give people time to incubate.
- Create hospitable space. Provide colour in the form of crayons, paper, and felt pens. Does your meeting have to be held inside? I recently led a discussion with a group of university managers, at a gazebo in their Japanese Garden. The experience inspired them to hold some of their own staff meetings at the gazebo.
- Ditch the Powerpoint. You’ve probably heard of death by powerpoint. Slides overloaded with charts, ugly clip art and bullet points make people go brain dead.
- Tell a story instead.. Stories capture people’s interest, enhance organizational learning and make information more memorable. The story could be your own or you can draw upon history, headlines, or myths. How do you craft a story?
Lori L. Silverman, author of Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over has these suggestions: First, paint a context in order to capture people’s attention. Then introduce the cast of characters and describing pertinent elements such as the location, time of year, and what is going on in the situation. Next, outline the obstacle, the challenge, or the conflict and finally, bring the story to closure by describing how the situation was resolved. (or what needs to be resolved.) Drive your point by linking your story to the business issue you are addressing, and use the story as springboard for group discussion, creativity and problem-solving.
- Use metaphors to make your point. Metaphors are very short stories that paint a picture in the mind of the audience. Here are some examples from the media: “The development cost for a single drug is roughly $900 million. That’s more that it cost to build the Queen Mary 2.” Google on defending why it doesn’t report quarterly earnings said: “A management team distracted by a series of short-term targets is as pointless as a dieter stepping on a scale every half hour.” What metaphor best describes your situation?
- Ask compelling questions. David Cooperrider, (developer of Appreciative Inquiry, a methodology for organizational change) said “The seeds of change are planted in the very first questions we ask. “What if” and “So what” questions can evoke imaginative responses and generate new possibilities.
- Collect stories from your group. Ask each person at your meeting to draw a diagram or picture of what the challenge/situation looks like to them. What would they do about it?It’s best if they use stick figures for people to reduce fears about drawing. Let each person show their picture and tell their story. In my experience, this is an effective way to engage people and keep the meeting focused. Images transcend the limitations of language, and help capture the wisdom of the group. In this way you make thinking visible, which promotes insights, understanding, creativity and engagement. Write down ideas that come from the stories on post-it notes.
- Break the habit of responding to suggestions with a “Yes but…” and switch to “Yes and…” Try to build on the ideas of others. Write down each idea and hang it on the wall.
- Stop debating every idea as it is put forward. It takes too much time and stops the flow of creative thinking.Wait until you have captured all ideas on flip charts, then invite people to pick out the gems for further discussion.
- Create a wall of wisdom. Hang a poster-sized sheet of paper on the wall with a headline for each topic. Ask people to write their ideas, insights etc. on each poster. Or collect post-it notes from group discussions and place on the posters under themes. Then discuss as a group and decide what action you are going to take to move forward..
Transform your corporate retreat or strategy meeting into an inspired hotbed of productivity.We facilitate visual dialogue to engage employees and uncover breakthrough solutions.
Orchestrating Collaboration at Work: Using Music, Improv, Storytelling, and Other Arts to Improve Teamwork By Arthur VanGundy and Linda Naiman
Orchestrating Collaboration at Work is an activity book for trainers, coaches, mediators and facilitators, who want to use the arts to create transformative learning experiences in organizations.