Escape Meeting Monotony

Meetings don’t have to be terrible. I would know, I have run all kinds of meetings… the good, the blah, and the awful. The best meetings enable greater productivity, clarify and deepen communication, and have the potential to transform team culture. When meetings miss the mark it’s often due to the dreaded round-table update (not this round-table, because that would be hilarious). This is the meeting where, one by one, each person shares what they’ve been working on while everyone else listens, pretends to listen, or overtly checks their cell phone... and then an hour runs out on the clock.

Two strategies exist to avoid this type of meeting monotony. The first, and most important, approach is to make status updates unnecessary. Project management tools can eliminate the need for verbal task updates while helping to organize emails, files, and conversations. The tool should be something that everyone on the team uses, so that people trust the content and can get a response quickly. The most successful tools are integrated into team gatherings without dominating the conversation. Imagine yourself in a meeting where participants refer to a status dashboard (as opposed to taking an hour to update everyone on minutia) and then moves on to the heart of the matter: decisions that need to be made in order to reach team goals. This is a far more interesting discussion which involves creativity and problem solving, vs. waiting for a turn to speak.

This brings me to the second strategy for better meetings: choose interactive content for the discussion and a structure that supports two-way conversation. While every team leader probably has something to share unilaterally, the majority of a team’s conversation should be a topic where opinions are welcomed. For example, the leader can share highlights from a management meeting and then open up discussion about how management can best address staff needs on a particular topic. Instead of gathering this information in a round robin, participants can post sticky notes on the wall, give a 30 second pitch for why their idea matters (a la “pecha kucha”), and then the team can do ranking exercises to identify and elevate priorities. Physical movement, like a walking meeting, can spur new ideas, while standing meetings can help focus them (standing being more tiring compared to sitting, meetings tend to move more quickly).

Both of these strategies require more work outside the meeting, which is the point. You can only do so much in 60 minutes. Make the most of your time together, and offload tasks that can be done elsewhere. Focus the conversation on engaging collective brainpower. And when you’re done, solidify trust by using the ideas generated to take action.

Alexandra Laney