Innovator's Challenge: Stop Meeting Madness

With some thoughtful preparation, meetings move from bore to brilliant

Meetings. We’ve all sat through more than we’d care to admit. In fact, 35% of employee time is spent in meetings, and this number skyrockets to 50% the more senior you become. Worse still, is how ineffective so many of these meetings are. And the numbers are staggering; it is estimated that at least $37 billion is lost each year to ineffective meetings. The real culprits of ineffective meetings are multi-tasking and lack of engagement from remote participants. Unsurprisingly, engagement is crucial. Another blow to productive meetings, and often the culprit of boring, rambling ones, is lack of thoughtful preparation. Meetings aren't going away any time soon. So rather than suffer through more menial meetings, here are some ways you can revitalize them and deliver sessions that are both engaging and impactful.

With some thoughtful preparation, meetings move from boring to brilliant

Trim Them

With a tight agenda and focal point, meetings rarely need to exceed 45 minutes. Practice good meeting hygiene by scheduling shorter meetings and clearly stating the meeting objective, as well as what success looks like for this meeting.

Start Inspired

Before you dive into the nitty-gritty, take some time to think big, bold and inspired. This small shift will help you attack your meeting agenda with heightened creativity and enthusiasm. Consider asking a random question like ‘who would play you in a movie?’ or ‘who is your favorite inventor?’ to start the meeting in an expansive, inspired state. Soul Cycle, for example, open their meetings with a meditation and intention setting.

Rotate Meeting Leadership

Picking a different leader each week keeps things fresh. It puts the onus on the leader to set and distribute the agenda, as well as bring some creative flair to the table. At method, the cleaning product manufacturer, they hold ‘huddles’ not meetings and nominate a different person to lead it each week. This bakes in dynamism and variety, and often means the meetings get progressively more creative, imaginative and effective.
Think In Color

Adding color and creativity to your meetings helps drive engagement and inventive thinking. Every Thursday, baby-food company Plum Organics hold meetings full of coloring books where staff talk, color, share and decompress According to their Innovation director Jen Brush, these meetings have been instrumental in new product development. Sketching even happened at the top. Mark Parker, CEO of Nike doodles through meetings. If coloring isn’t for you, try purchasing some stimulus at random to expand perspectives and lighten the atmosphere. A selection of goods from a Japanese grocery store, costume store or even a selection of unusual magazines for attendees to flick through can breathe new life into your meetings, even your WIP report meetings.

Add Play

Take the principle of color one step further and add gaming dynamics. Adding elements of surprise keeps attendees interested and actively engaged. For example, write agenda points on post-it notes and put them in a hat, and pull them at random to dictate the meeting flow. Or ask participants to write their goal for the week on a deflated balloon. Redistribute the balloons, and then ask attendees to blow up a balloon at random and read the now-legible memos. The content remains the same, but the engagement mechanism is wildly different. Energy, engagement and expansive thinking peak when the smallest moment of play are added.

Get Outside

Walking meeting are more and more common, but this can be taken to the next level, in a way that espouses your brands core values. The creative agency Innocean are known to encourage surfing meetings right outside their Huntington Beach office, Genera Games shoot hoops and talk business, Nike host running meetings on their HQ running track and as an intern at Australian Geographic magazine many moons ago, I joined the team for lunchtime expeditions each Wednesday, where business matters were discussed while abseiling down a rock face. In this context, not only does information stick, but new dimensions of trust are established between co-workers.

Penalize Latecomers

Stragglers ruin it for everybody. Add a creative punishment to encourage timeliness. For example, stragglers can sing a song decided upon by the group, throw money in a late jar (to be contributed to the office party or chosen charity) or sit on an uncomfortable stool for the duration of the meeting. Similar punishments can be given for other bad meeting etiquette, like rehashing old points or side-tracking meeting agendas.

Innovator’s Challenge

Pick one of your weekly meetings and identify what the greatest pain point of that meeting is (late comers, lack of engagement, unimaginative thinking) and then try identify three new ideas that can help overcome those challenges. Commit to this new style for at least a month, and take note of what flows naturally (and creates more productive meetings) and what feels forced and a strained fit for your team.


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