It’s 8 AM, and one glance at your calendar tells you it’s another day crammed with an endless stream of mind-numbingly dull, antagonistic, and unproductive meetings. We’ve invested thousands of hours—which we will never get back—in contentious, monotonous, and frustrating meetings with nothing to show for it other than our being stressed, tired, and dreading the next one on the calendar.
If you’re anything like me, you’re continually on the quest for a few simple ideas to shake up and halt meeting monotony. Here are three simple ideas to make what seems like an impossible task possible.
1. Disruption Is Crucial
Even the most disciplined among us are inclined to approach familiar situations and people in routine ways. Disrupting well-known patterns is crucial to halting meeting monotony and shaking up the routine thinking that lulls everyone into a trance of just going through the motions.
There is no right or wrong way to disrupt the status quo. Simply changing the venue, length, format, players, and asking people to assume different roles (e.g. meeting manager, devil’s advocate, solicitor of other’s points of view) can create enough disruption to spark the various players to pause, reflect, think, and respond more intelligently.
Noticing when people seem to be coalescing around repetitive thinking is vital to halting the cascade toward monotony. Asking innovative questions designed to spur debate and challenge common thinking reinvigorates the discussion and disrupts the trend toward groupthink.
2. Don’t Dictate The Approach
Disruption is vital to invigorating your meetings, and yet it isn’t all that’s required. Dictating the way in which the players interact in the meeting isn’t a great strategy for spurring enthusiasm, creativity, robust debate, and trust. How everyone will interact is fundamental to creating the space needed for transparency, fruitful dialogue/debate, and learning to happen. The approach must reflect the collective values and principles of everyone involved, along with those of the organization. Here are a few essential ones that you can build upon:
- Common focus—the success of everyone involved.
- Respect for each other regardless of title or position.
- Free expression of perspectives, views, and beliefs, especially when they highlight flaws and assumptions.
- No one sits on the sidelines—active solicitation of participation.
- Recognition and support of the role of the ultimate decision maker.
- Agreement to support the final decision once it is made.
These principles must extend beyond the meeting and become part of the DNA of the team or organization. Everyone needs to embody these at all times.
3. Design With The End In Mind
We are all well-versed in the trail of breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel use to guide them back home to safety when the moon rises. There is a lesson there for us. It is critical to the success of the meeting that we know EXACTLY where we want the journey to end.
Starting with the end in mind stems tangents and unnecessary side discussions that quickly derail and catapult us toward decisions that don’t serve our needs and that we aren’t invested in. Designing meetings with the end in mind, simply stated, means delineating and clarifying what the ultimate goal being sought is and establishing the path that gives you the best chance of seeing it come to fruition. Agreeing in the short-term on where we are ultimately headed—even when we don’t all agree on the nitty-gritty of how this will be done—is what creates the shared enthusiasm and investment in striving for the same result. Here are two quick ideas for you to experiment with:
- Start with the meeting invite. Include a request for people to get ready for the meeting by thinking about the ultimate outcome and what gives the team the best chance of attaining it and getting the creativity and focus going.
- Use technology to gather the data and share the information with everyone so they become aware, informed, and prepared. A low-tech way is to collect people’s thoughts and ideas at the start of the meeting on a flip chart.
The information gathered becomes the genesis for the conversation that will build consensus, set the ultimate outcomes, create enthusiasm, and define the trajectory of the meeting.
Perhaps implementing these strategies will feel strange and uncomfortable at first—most change is. However, in the long run, changing the direction of your next meeting is critical to leveraging the differences, bonds, and insights of the brilliant minds in the room and, most of all, their impression of you as the meeting leader.
What tips have you used to take a break from meeting monotony and give your meetings a well-deserved shot in the arm? I’d like to hear them, so please feel free to share them below.