Meetings can be a bit boring. Sometimes they can go on for longer than you need them to, aren’t as productive as you’d hoped and can end up with you and your team having more questions than answers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Meetings can be things to look forward to rather than loathe and hiss at like angry, rabies-ridden badgers.
So, how can you improve your meetings and make sure they get the most out of your staff? Here are 7 ideas.
1. Don’t have a meeting at all
We’ve all been to meetings that could have been solved with just a few emails and it can be really annoying.
Before you request a meeting with someone or accept an invitation, make sure you actually need a meeting in the first place.
Chances are that if you don’t need to have a meeting, it will be boring anyway.
2. Walk and talk
We all sit in our offices under bright false lighting, staring at screens all day long.
Frankly, I think it’s unhealthy.
Sometimes, a meeting can be a nice way to peel ourselves away from our monitors for a minute to… go and sit in another room, with more false lighting and more screens, to talk to the people we were emailing anyway.
While I realize that walking is hardly revolutionary, walking meetings could well be.
Of course this won’t work so well if there are 15 or 20 of you, but if there are just 2 or 3, it can be a great way to get some fresh air as well as a few fresh ideas.
Walking and talking can also be a great management tool and be used a precursor to the main meeting.
If you’ve got a junior member of staff who often doesn’t say too much in larger groups, take them on a 1-to-1 walk and ask them about some of the topics that will come up in the main meeting later on.
If they’re confident enough around you, they’ll speak their mind a little and you can discuss their thoughts, telling them why they’re right or wrong. Then, in the formal meeting, they should feel more confident in speaking up.
If they don’t, you can always say, “[Name] and I were talking about this earlier on and [Name] made a good point when he/she said blablabla.”
This should also help to build their confidence, hopefully leading to more productive meetings in the future.
3. Go East
I wrote an article a little while ago about Japanese business culture in which I mentioned a few ways the Japanese deal with things differently to most of us here in the West.
One of the main things they approach differently is meetings.
In the West, we tend to let CEOs speak first, then the highest managers, then mid-level management and then, at the end, execs, assistants and interns.
The problem with our system however is that hearing their managers speak first usually leads to someone who’s lower in the hierarchy simply saying something that concurs with their manager, rather than them actually speaking their mind.
This can seriously kill creativity in meetings and stop any new ideas coming to the table.
But doing things the Japanese way could well solve this problem and get the best out of everyone in your business, from the top to the bottom.
After all, how are you supposed to solve a problem with the same sort of thinking that caused it? Encouraging new thoughts from youthful, naive, inexperienced members of staff could allow you to see a problem in a completely different light.
The Japanese way of conducting meetings involves simply having those at the lower end of the hierarchy speak first, with their bosses and then their boss’ bosses speaking afterwards.
This allows for new, fresh ideas to come to the table, no holds barred and with no internal, political nonsense getting in the way.
Management can then comment on these thoughts, explaining why they’re not quite right, why they’re great or why they’re somewhere in the middle.
This also gives those lower down the chance to show that they’re not afraid to speak out and perhaps offer something a little different to the rest of the team.
4. Go to the pub
Who said that meetings always have to be held on premises?
An informal meeting at the local bar or pub towards the end of the day, or in a coffee shop or restaurant in the morning can really help to get the creative juices flowing, and can also knock down some of the barriers that naturally exist in the workplace.
If you do this as a spur of the moment thing too, you throw in healthy pinches of surprise and excitement into the meeting, just like at school when the teacher would suddenly wheel in a TV or take the lesson outside onto the grass in the summer.
When that happened, you knew it was going to be a good day.
So imagine how your team members will feel when you suddenly take them out for bacon, brunch or beer to discuss a couple of ideas and problems.
You’re much more likely to get the best out of them that way because the gesture shows you don’t just see them as work horses who should be chained to their desks from 9-5, but as people with emotions and lives that actually appreciate.
On top of that, a change of scenery is always nice, too.
5. Fly solo
One of the greatest killers of creativity is group work.
Sitting down to come up with ideas with others can completely disturb your train of thought. Just as you’re getting somewhere with an idea, boom: someone says something that distracts you and you’ll never get on the same train of thought again.
That said, collaboration when creating is key because two heads are better than one; an idea you might think to be strong could have some serious flaws that someone with a different thought process to you might spot.
So, what am I on about? I’ve just said two completely contradictory things, am I wasting your time? No.
Because actually, one of the main reasons meetings can be boring is that they go on for too long or are unproductive.
So say you’re going to have a brainstorming session or have a problem that needs solving, send the topic out to all of the attendees a couple of days before the session with some key questions to think about and the task of coming up with some solutions and ideas.
This gives them something that’s so important for promoting creativity: time. Creativity can never, ever be rushed, it just doesn’t work like that, and going with the first idea one of you comes up with is often the worst way forward (just watch The Apprentice for proof.).
More to the point though, meetings in which people are just sat there thinking can be really boring. But if everyone’s had time to think, they can actually come up with some ideas and said ideas might actually be quite good.
Even if their brains are just working on the ideas in the background of a busy week, they’ll at least come to the meeting with something to offer.
6. Be positive when you’re negative
Leading on from my last point, something else that can kill a meeting dead in the water is negativity.
Often, someone’s idea can be shot down straightaway, but with a little thought may have actually been useful.
Rather than just saying what the problem is, suggest a way around that problem, or at least say “I like it, but we’d need to find a way around XYZ”.
Sitting there saying what the problems are with everyone else’s ideas isn’t called productivity, it’s called moaning. And nobody likes a moaner.
7. Bring a teddy bear
Ok, now you probably think this one sounds a little bit weird, but stick with me.
I recently read a brilliant article by Hubspot CEO Dharmesh Shah (you can find it here). It was a very polite and honest response to a book written about Hubspot and, more specifically, how bad* apparently it is to work for the company.
In the article, Dharmesh answers one of the criticisms in the book, which described how some Hubspot employees would take a teddy bear named Mollie into meetings.
At first – as I said above – this does sound a little ridiculous, but the reason is actually pretty clever.
Hubspot employees were instructed to pretend that Mollie was a customer who was sitting in on the meeting.
While of course squeezing Mollie’s paw or stomach won’t result in her giving some valuable input into the meeting, this exercise does force you to think about what the customer might say if he/she were there.
Making the customer the focus of all of your meetings like this is a great way to ensure that service comes first in your business and is one of many reasons that Hubspot’s revenue has grown 50% year-on-year for the past 5 years.
Reading that idea actually reminded me of my days at primary school. I remember in some classes, to practise listening respectfully to each other, we’d have a teddy or small item which was passed around and only the person holding it could speak. This way, the rest of the class remained quiet and listened, while someone else could say their piece uninterrupted.
Using a ‘Mollie’ – teddy bear or not – could be used in this way in meetings too, especially if you have a particularly competitive or enthusiastic team, the members of which tend to speak over one and other often.
Either idea would probably feel stupid at first, but if they solve a problem or make things more productive, who cares?
*It’s worth noting that the guy who wrote this book was a journalist who told Hubspot that he was sick of journalism, so they hired him, and 20 months later he released the book. Seems legit…
If you’re still struggling for ideas after all that lot and want to reduce the length of time of your meetings, why not try something inspired by the below picture which I saw on LinkedIn?
You could spice it up a little by saying the first to fall makes the tea/coffee or the last man standing gets a prize.