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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 make the most 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 & Plan
  • Address Issues & Challenges
  • Develop New Ideas & Brainstorm Solutions
  • Make Decisions

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

Build Understanding

One of the challenges facing large, busy organizations is getting team members on the same page. You’ve likely heard of urban sprawl, but “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 foster 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, despite the benefits that diverse opinions can bring, this approach can 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. Anyone who stretches to try something new, strives for improvement, or implements a change, knows that they’re likely to hit roadblocks. In organizations, problem “owners” often need to seek guidance and input from colleagues in different roles and departments. Whether the goal is 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 brainstorming and ideation efforts should begin as an individual or group exercise. However, they tend to agree that the process improves 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 think out-of-the-box. Jogging ideas with silly or creative prompts can also help the process. The one rule that must be respected, however, is the pledge to reserve judgment. Ideas tossed out by one person can be improved by another, but never criticized.

Make Decisions

The fifth sensible reason to call a meeting involves making decisions. Although some managers may believe that decisions should be made “at the top,” great leaders are well-aware that involving people in the process of deciding, leads to increased buy-in. Even if a final resolution is not unanimous, participants will appreciate the challenges and tradeoffs and will feel more engaged in the implementation phase. Processes for making decisions include voting, ranking, finalizing terms, or agreeing on a series of next steps.

Making the work feel less like “work”

Once we appreciate that the work of meetings can be truly important to organizational success, the next question is: 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, and then sort through, organize, shuffle and build on those ideas. Put one idea on each note and then reorganize them in whatever way makes the most sense for your needs:

  • Separate Pros & Cons or Pains & Gains.
  • Create a grid to sort ideas thematically.
  • Organize notes in concentric circles to indicate relative importance.
  • Try themed sticky-note pads to stimulate idea creation or visioning.
  • Sort and sequence thee notes into next steps.

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 assist managers at every level of a company:

  • Use a “Vision Tree” metaphor to plan your next project. Identify roots, bugs, branches, fruits, etc.
  • Try “Road to There” to strategize, identify roadblocks and solve problems.
  • Consider an “Iceberg” analogy to uncover and discuss hidden issues.
  • Use an “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 be male or female? What movies would it watch? What brands would it like?)

Story-Board It> Develop a STORY to explore new ideas or try out new solutions. Although storytelling traditions are ancient, they continue to be an incredibly powerful tool that evokes emotion and creates lasting memories. These tools can help teams develop their story:

  • Develop a headline that 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 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 each person’s level of excitement about an idea (red hot, lukewarm yellow, glorious green, etc.).
  • Rank ideas by assigning more points to favorites. You can 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 criteria for the decision at hand.
  • Use numbers of fingers (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) or Thumbs UP/DOWN to quickly gauge group members’ interest.

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

  • Record important ideas on a Memory Wall.
  • Have the note-taker or “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 meeting for any ideas posted to a Parking Lot (ideas that arose which weren’t pertinent to the current meeting but will require future attention).

Call ’em by Another Name?

Since so much good can come about 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 discarded 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 your group session, make sure it has a purpose and a goal, and also that you take the time to make it participatory, fun, and efficient.

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