We spend a lot of time in meetings these days and most of them are boring. Many individuals manage to turn up to a meeting and contribute nothing other than consuming a few biscuits! If you are a manager, then team meetings are essential but it is also crucial that you make them productive, worthwhile and interesting to attend.
So forget the old fashioned instructions about making sure you have an agenda, a chairperson and a good minute-taker and make your meetings work! Ensure that your meetings always include sharing information, solving problems or making decisions, creating new ideas, collaborating and learning and socializing.
1. Get started well
Start with a bang by showing an interesting clip, asking for a show of hands, telling a story, getting people to take part in a quick quiz or displaying a controversial statement for people to discuss. Maybe ask people to write down a burning question that they want answered by this meeting. You could even get them to engage before they come to the meeting by completing an on-line survey that you begin by presenting the results of.
Agree the objectives of the meeting. What do we need to have achieved by the time we leave this meeting? You can discuss pre-prepared objectives or develop them as a group by having each person write one and then consolidating them down to no more than 5 by using one of the techniques coming up!
2. Chuck away the chairs and get people moving
OK so don't throw them in the bin, but for goodness sake do not let people come in, slump down and stay there until the bitter end. It's great if you have high tables for stand up meetings or bean bags or sofas for some informal lounging, but whatever you do, mix it up a bit! Have a section of the meeting that is a quick stand up huddle and get people to change positions for different parts of the meeting according to their interests, their views on an issue or a random reason like where their birthday falls in the year. Ask people to show how they feel about a particular issue by using their body. For example standing up if they agree, sitting down if they don't, using their hands to demonstrate their level of confidence in a particular course of action or their feelings about how a project is going.
3. Ensure that everyone is contributing and sharing their views
If you just have a meeting that is basically an open group discussion, you will get the same people contributing every time. Allow people that need it reflection time, but ensure you get contributions from all by including small group discussion with presentation back, 'rounds' where every individual contributes and having different people lead each section of the meeting.
*Brief encounters – put key questions related to your discussion topic on cards and get people to have lots of different one-to-one conversations by answering the questions on the cards, swapping them and moving on.
Rounds – go around and get every individual to complete a sentence, share their view, share a success, say what is bothering them...
*Surveys – divide your team up into groups and get them to survey the whole team on an issue all at the same time. Give a tight deadline for presenting the information back in less than a minute.
Where do you stand? – get people to show where they stand on an issue literally. Put different viewpoints around the room and get people to go and stand next to the view that most closely represents their own and discuss.
Speed dating – a way of every individual talking to every other one – great for giving feedback. A simple way to organise this is to start with two lines facing each other. If there is an odd number so that one line is slightly longer than the other, everyone will get to talk to everyone and everyone will sit out reflecting once.
Concentric circles – form two circles inside each other so everyone is facing a partner. Share views and rotate the circles.
World Café – small groups of people sit at café-style tables to explore a question that matters to the team. Other groups at nearby tables explore similar questions at the same time. People write down or sketch ideas on paper tablecloths as they talk. After a set period, people change tables, carrying ideas and insights from their previous group into a new group. One 'host' stays at each table to share with new arrivals the key images, insights and questions that emerged from the prior dialogue. The process can be followed by summaries of dialogue and an open group discussion.
4. Enable people to bring their emotions to the meeting
Find out how people have been feeling since the last meeting. What have they been mad, sad or glad about? Use picture cards to stimulate dialogue around feelings to get into the issues that are important for them. See my article on using picture cards in training and coaching for more ideas.
5. Display people's thinking
Invest in some pinboards or display boards and enable everyone to see the thinking that is going on in the room. Use post-its or pinpoint kit and markers, make giant Gantt charts that go all around the room and giant action-plans for all to see. This enables people to move ideas, group things together, vote on them using stickers etc.
Sticker voting – people place stickers by ideas that appeal to them or they think are the most workable.
6. Include some learning
Have a slot for people to learn something. It could be that a team member has been on a course and is able to 'teach back' some of the key concepts in an interactive way. Or do a team activity or exercise and review it well extracting all the learning and allowing that to generate a couple of actions that will keep your team functioning well.
Study tables – put interesting material about a subject everyone is keen to learn more about on different tables and allow groups to review it together. Get tables to distill into 3 key learning points or concepts to share with the other groups.
7. Keep it positive
Nobody likes a negative, energy-sapping meeting. Have a rule where when someone comes up with an idea, people have to say three things they like about it before anyone is allowed to criticize. Have a specific slot in the meeting for sharing successes since the last meeting.
8. Build consensus
Much of the time, a really important function of your team meeting is to build consensus around a particular course of action and as well as discussion, there are lots of other more expedient techniques that can help you do this.
Snowballing – individuals decide on their own view about something and then share it with a partner. The pair then combine their views into something they can both agree on or persuade the other person to go with theirs. Pairs then meet other pairs and do the same thing. Groups of four meet other groups of four and so on until you have one large group in agreement.
Deciding line* – a variation of the above is where groups physically move from one room to another or across a line when they have 'decided' to grab another group and then go back into the 'deciding' area.
Give me 21 – get individuals to write their best idea on a card. Swap them all around in the group so that nobody can remember who wrote what. Then get everyone to look at the card they have and rate how good it is on a scale of 0-7, writing the score on the back. Swap cards around and repeat the process twice more. Then ask people to hand you in the ideas or views that have the highest scores first to let you know about the team's priorities.
9. Vary the agenda and the lead
Every meeting should be different and every part of it led by different people to add variety, but if you'd really like a sample agenda showing how a typical meeting might look, here it is...
- Impactful opening
- Presenting last week's results vs. goals
- Quick round of mad, sad, glad
- Work on a team challenge and potential solutions using a variety of techniques
- Interactive learning session
- Work on another team challenge and potential solutions using a variety of techniques
- Set goals for the upcoming week
- Quick round of successes, praise
- Quick round of meeting feedback
- Impactful close
10. Review your meetings
Which bits did people like best? Which bits did they feel more most useful and productive. End with a very quick round of feedback to allow you to home and continuously develop the quality of your meetings.
And a bonus tip –
Invest in a large clock
Keep it snappy. If you say that each group has one minute to report back or each individual has one minute to share a success or that each group has 5 minutes to discuss, stick to it.
* I must give credit to my great friend and mentor Dr. Roger Greenaway for his sharing these techniques with me many years ago.