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5 Mission Critical Motives for Meetings and Ways to Make Them Marvelous

My mind was swimming with ideas on how to gamify work and get more done at work after reading Gamestorming by Dave Gray and Sunni Brown . Meetings continue to get a bad rap, but as we transform meetings from time-wasters to strategic imperatives, the question isn’t whether to meet, but rather how to get the most out of shared time and run marvelous meetings.

If you don’t have a reason to meet, or a goal for the gathering, you probably shouldn’t bother calling people together. Consider these 5 mission-critical motives for meetings. All are valid, necessary, and important reasons to carve out time from your busy day:

  • How to Have Amazing Meetings infographicBuild Understanding (Build relationships & share knowledge)
  • Strategize and Plan
  • Address Issues & Challenges
  • Develop New Ideas and Brainstorm Solutions
  • Make Decisions

While the lines that distinguish these categories can be somewhat blurry, they may help sort out your thinking and help you hone in on your goals. [If you prefer to digest information visually, this infographic will help.]

Build Understanding

One of the challenges of large, busy organizations is getting team members on the same page. You’ve likely heard of urban sprawl. “Corporate Sprawl” is its own phenomenon, common in organizations where departments operate as separate silos, and in workplaces with lots of remote employees. To build alignment and coordination, managers and team leaders must make huge efforts to exchange knowledge and learning, give feedback, share varying perspectives, and foment relationships.

Strategize & Plan

Incredible synergy results when teams join forces to figure out a plan, attack a challenge, progress on an issue, and devise a strategy. However, the very benefit of seeking diverse opinions can simultaneously make developing a shared vision that much more complex. Whether you use Scrum or Agile methodologies, or more conventional approaches, well-honed skills and tools can help extract individuals’ perceptions and ideas, make them discussable and move toward a coordinated effort.

Address Issues & Challenges

Achieving growth and success is never smooth sailing. Any who stretch to try something new, strive for improvement, or implement a change, know they’re likely to hit roadblocks. In organizations, problem “owners” often need to seek guidance and input from those in different roles and departments. Whether managing change, solving a problem, analyzing stakeholders, or understanding a situation, calling a meeting is often the first step toward finding solutions and moving forward.

Develop New Ideas & Brainstorm

Experts disagree on whether brainstorms and ideation efforts should begin as an individual or group exercise. However, they tend to agree that ideas are often improved when individuals with divergent perspectives work together to hone, whittle, or develop one another’s ideas in an effort to find the perfect solution. The keys to welcoming creativity include giving people enough time, space, freedom to come up with out-of-the-box thinking. Jogging ideas with silly or creative prompts can also help the process. The one rule that must be respected is the pledge to reserve judgement. Ideas tossed out by one person can be improved by another, but not criticized.

Make Decisions

The fifth category of necessary meetings involves making decisions. Although some managers may believe a decision should be made “at the top,” great leaders are well-aware that involving people in the process of deciding, fosters increased buy-in. Even if a final decision is not unanimous, participants will appreciate the challenges and tradeoffs that may have led to the final outcome and will feel more engaged in making it happen. Decision processes may include voting, ranking, finalizing terms, or agreeing on a process of next steps.

Making the work feel less like “work”

Appreciating that the work of meetings can be truly important to organizational success, begs the next question: how can we make it less tedious and more enjoyable? Drawing from our decades of experience listening to trainers and managers and developing tools and resources to make their teams more effective, as well as culling through the recommendations and resources of countless facilitators and consultants around the globe, we’ve sorted these creative techniques into the six categories described below. In the attached infographic, you will notice that facilitators can apply many of these methods to a range of meeting initiatives.

Picture This> Use PHOTO DECKS to find images that represent participants thoughts and feelings or stimulate fresh thinking. Examples include:

  • Select a photo that reflects you
  • Choose an image to show your feelings
  • Pick a picture to inspire creative thinking
  • Select a photo that will remind you of follow-up steps

Stick ‘em Up> Try STICKY NOTES to develop new ideas, then sort through, organize, shuffle and build on new ideas. Put one idea on each note and then reorganize them in whatever way makes best sense for your needs:

  • Separate Pros & Cons or Pains and Gains
  • Create a grid to sort ideas thematically
  • Organize notes in concentric circles to indicate relative importance
  • Try themed sticky notes pads to stimulate idea creation or visioning
  • Sequence notes into next step

Fanciful Facilitation> Draw on METAPHORS to stimulate new thinking and organize thoughts. These techniques are often used by consultants but the formats and structures can also be facilitated by lay managers:

  • Use a “Vision Tree” metaphor for planning, identifying roots, bugs, branches, and fruits.
  • Try “Road to There” for strategizing, identifying roadblocks and problem solving
  • Consider the “Iceberg” analogy to uncover and discuss hidden issues
  • Use the “Airplane” metaphor to discuss destinations, engine power, and steering
  • Personify a problem to explore values, priorities, and features. (i.e. if your problem were a person would it male/female. What movies would it watch? What brands would it like?)

Story-Board It> Develop a STORY to explore new ideas or play out new solutions. While story telling traditions are ancient, they continue to be an incredibly powerful tool to evoke emotion and create lasting memories. These tools can help teams develop their story:

  • Develop a headline you’d hope to read in the future
  • Use Story Cubes to imagine and describe a new narrative
  • Articulate challenges using picture prompts like Images of Organizations
  • Develop a timeline of your history as a way to reflect backward and seek fresh insights

Tally the Votes> Take a VOTE and determine which ideas resonate most with the group. Voting by a show of hands will work, but you can add much more nuance and fun with these techniques:

  • Use colored Voting Dots to indicate excitement about an idea (red hot, luke yellow, glorious green, etc.)
  • Rank ideas by assigning more points to favorites. Either offer up to 5 points for every idea, or a total of 5 points to be divided among the favorites
  • Use importance multipliers to give more weight to critical issues – before taking a vote, have the group identify the most important decision criteria
  • Use 5 fingers (1-2-3-4-or 5) or Thumbs UP/DOWN to quickly gauge interest

Stepping Forward> Finally, COMMIT to next steps. Before the meeting breaks up, ask your group to write down their follow-up actions:

  • Record important ideas on Memory Wall
  • Have the meeting scribe circulate the list of next steps
  • Ask each individual to write what they’ll do on Start-Stop-Continue-Change Sticky Notes
  • Schedule a follow-up for any ideas posted to a Parking Lot (ideas that arose which weren’t pertinent to the current meeting but require future attention)

Call ’em by Another Name?

With so much good that can happen from well-facilitated gatherings, maybe we simply need to stop calling them “meetings.” The Scrum methodology refers to quick meetings as “Daily Stand Ups.”  Others have tossed out the word “meeting” and instead gather for one of these:  a Huddle, Brainstorm, Ideation, Blamestorming, Breaking Bread, Brown-Bag (lunch meeting), Sprint Meetings, Diagonal Slice (meeting that includes staff from several teams), Interlock (meeting to coordinate), Lunch and Learn, Pre-Mortem, Post-Mortem, Pulse Check (quick checkin), Skull Session (another word for a brainstorm), Town Hall, Visioning, Chit Chat, Buzz Session, or GroupThink.

No matter what you choose to call it, make sure you have a purpose and goal, and that you take the time to make it participatory, fun, and efficient.

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