Encouraging Creativity In Meetings

Encouraging creativity in the meetings

No one looks fondly back at a favorite meeting they had. Those gatherings take up your calendar and distract you from productivity. If given the choice, we would opt out of a meeting. Yet, they persist in our work schedule. There is a need to gather as a group, exchange ideas, reach a consensus, and make a decision. They do not have to be something we dread. Meetings can be something for the team to look forward to by encouraging creativity.

Plan like hell and go with the flow

Unless you belong to a company that has declared a “no meeting policy,” then you will have them. The point is how are you going to plan them to make them worthwhile for everyone involved. Before trying to craft the best meeting ever. You should have the following requirements figured out.

  • What is the agenda?
  • Who are the appropriate people for this meeting?
  • How does this meeting fit in with the current priorities?

Agenda
I never book time on people’s calendars unless I know at least three things I need to go over. One of the agenda points should cover what artifact or decision will come out of the time. This helps people understand what they are devoting their time for. The agenda should also discuss what I will need from them in that meeting.

People
Make sure the people you need to talk to are going to be in the meeting. Never send a rogue calendar invite to people you do not know. I send a DM (direct message) to introducing myself. Then I talk about the meeting that I wanted them to be in. Most of the time they agree. Nonetheless, it gives them the ability to understand the request.

Big Picture
The goal is the right meeting at the right time. I have been to whole workshops that did not fit within the current priorities and deadline. And sadly, I have also booked and facilitated meetings and workshops that were guilty of ignoring the bigger picture. A poorly placed meeting request can tarnish how people view your judgment. Check with your team or lead on whether or not the meeting you want has to happen now.

Encouraging creativity in meetings

Is this a familiar exchange in meetings? We can change it by altering the dynamics.

Key elements for a no BS meeting

Before we begin to remake meetings. We have to cover the basic elements that make a meeting useful. Here is a fantastic list of non-negotiables for meetings from the blog, “Alive with Ideas,”

1. Efficiency – The default time when setting a meeting is one hour. I like to bring them down to 30 minutes if possible. I start my meeting on time and often end them early.
2. Openness and honesty – I encourage my team to express their concerns with me. This includes if they feel that I am doing something that does not help their work. This can come out in meetings in public.
3. Positivity and fun – Always bring an element of fun. Tasteful jokes or something disarming like a picture of your puppy when it is appropriate. I do this with my team. Not with my VP.
4. Participation – From running workshops, teaching classes, and hosting meetings, I have learned to quickly take the focus off of me. I set up the goals the meeting. Then I guide the group through participation. I give them ways to provide their input even when allowing everyone to speak one at a time is not possible.
5. Creativity – Open the meeting up for different ways of thinking. Add in restrictions to take away things like laptops and outside conversations that distract. Add in things like paper, markers, and pencils that promote participation and divergent thinking.

Let others plan it

If this is a regular meeting, then you can give others the ability to plan and run it. We run our work on an agile schedule. This includes sprint planning, daily standup, demo, and retro. In between, we have regular team check-ins on bigger projects. I do not have to be the one to run all of the meetings. The ones that act as check-ins, I hand off to those who are looking for new responsibilities. Plus, it gives the group the chance to see another leadership style.

Ideas for encouraging creativity in meetings

Encouraging creativity with outdoor meetings

Encouraging creativity with outdoor meetings

Impromptu get-togethers

I do not have to schedule meetings to get people together. The trick is to find something that will bring people together. It can be to watch a movie while doing work, or doing drawing activities to introduce a break from difficult problems. These can be short and unplanned. We tend to do them at the beginning and end of the week when people’s minds are drifting towards the weekend.

Ditch the laptops

We have all been in the meeting when everyone was on a laptop. I have been guilty of that behavior. The belief is that we can be invisible and use the time to send off one email. The result is an ineffective meeting where no one is paying attention. To go sans-laptop, you can do this the heavy-handed way by ordering people close their computers. You can also set an example by not bringing in a laptop to the meeting. The goal is to send a message that you need the participants to focus. This also means that you have to plan for ways to engage your participants’ attention. Create an environment where it is hard for people to sit passively behind a computer.

Use nature

While you are at it, why not ditch the chairs and the tables? We spend a disproportionate amount of time in offices. However, we know that exposure to nature can refresh us. It can also relax us in ways that an office cannot. If possible, do a walking meeting. Hopefully, you have a green space like a park that is close enough to walk to. Run this meeting like others with a clear agenda. The walking and no laptop thing will remove most distractions and help the meeting cover more topics faster.

Special guests

Bring in people with different perspectives. This is something I have been experimenting internally as well as externally. Especially with the latter, I meet people at conferences. Naturally, we want to continue the conversation. So, I have started calls introducing those contacts with my team.

She who plans the meeting wins the meeting. These do not have to be uncomfortable tasks to check off throughout your day. Make them opportunities for your team to enjoy their time together, work, and make decisions that feel like a conscious.

Check out this Medium post for more ideas on sparking creativity.

Interested in more posts on bringing creativity into work? Check these posts.

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Matt Eng

UX Research Team Lead at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.

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