How to Unmeeting a Meeting

Innovation House Members Design Thinking

By Emily Roden, Product Specialist

It’s not uncommon for meetings to have a bad rap. We’ve all been there, the classic meeting that could have been an email or the energizing strategy session that leads to no change, but these common meeting complaints don’t have to be a part of your company’s culture. By following a few guidelines when setting up and conducting meetings, you can renew your colleagues’ faith in meetings and their ability to help your company evolve and execute. 

Before You Start

Before calling in the troops for a meeting, these are the 5 meetings that should move to email:

  1. Status Updates
  2. FYIs
  3. Bulk Reporting
  4. Recurring Meeting Updates
  5. Team Announcements

What’s the Job to be Done? 

Many meetings at Salt Flats start out with a discussion of what the job to be done is. Before the meeting even starts, the organizer should think about the purpose of the meeting being planned. Is it primarily to share information, and if that is the case, does an email or other form of communication make more sense? Is the purpose of the meeting to collaborate in order to make a decision or generate a new idea? If the goal is to derive an outcome that requires collaboration or input from multiple stakeholders, getting everyone in the same room is a great idea. 

Once the group has gathered, make sure everyone agrees on the intent of your time together. After the overall goal has been agreed upon, break it down. Setting the strategy for the upcoming year is a broad ask. What does this actually mean? What are the components that should be figured out before the meeting is over? Asking these questions during the meeting to the group will help everyone stay focused, direct conversation flow, and ensure tangible takeaways from the meeting.

Use the Right Tools 

A notebook, laptop or presentation slides might be what first comes to mind when thinking about supplies to bring to a meeting, but a few other tools can go a long way in making the most of everyone’s time. For example, having a designated facilitator who can keep the meeting on pace, moderate discussions and provide idea starters to keep the conversation flowing can have a huge impact on the productivity of the meeting. This individual could be the person who called the meeting or a completely different person who is skilled at eliciting collaboration. 

At Salt Flats, we believe Post-it Notes and whiteboards are your best friend when it comes to facilitation. Documenting the meeting in real-time helps attendees track the conversation and more easily string thoughts and ideas together so take pictures of the mess in progress. When capturing meetings, it’s also helpful to designate an area of the board or a grouping of Post-it Notes as the parking lot.” This is where you can collect items that come up in conversation that may not be relevant to what’s being discussed at that moment but are still important to keep in mind for the wider discussion. 

To help generate ideas and come to a consensus, frameworks and voting dots are also extremely beneficial. Frameworks, like a SWOT analysis or the 5Es, provide you with tested ways to break down whatever topic you’re addressing. My favorite resource for frameworks is Mural, which is also an extremely helpful tool to collaborate with remote teams. At Salt Flats, we believe in Collective Intelligence, meaning that no one is smarter or faster than everyone. As such, we utilize dot sticker voting to gain consensus. This allows an equal share of voice and involvement in the decision-making process. 

Set Ground Rules 

Most people understand general meeting protocol, but setting some ground rules for a collaborative meeting can lead to a more enjoyable and productive experience for everyone. Many examples of ground rules can be found with a quick online search, but a few ground rules I utilize when facilitating meetings include:

  • All ideas are good ideas 
  • Don’t limit yourself — anything is possible 
  • Keep jargon to a minimum 
  • Share airtime
  • Have fun

While most people try to follow these as a general rule of thumb for all office interactions, hearing them before a meeting kicks off keeps participants even more judicious about creating a comfortable collaboration space. 

Close Meetings with Consensus or Commitment 

Once you’ve set a time, got everyone in the same room and had a great conversation, make sure you get across the finish line. The best meeting in the world doesn’t have value if nothing comes from it. That’s why it’s imperative to make sure time is left in the meeting to come to either a decision or clear next steps. Once this is done, memorialize them in the most appropriate way, whether in a meeting wash up book, capturing all that was discussed for more formal meetings, or a method as simple as email to all those involved. 

While taking time away from daily responsibilities for meetings might at first seem like a hassle, using the tips above will help make sure your time spent together benefits all involved. By following these guidelines, meetings should not only be meaningful but also purposeful!

About Emily Roden

Emily is a Product Strategist for Salt Flats. She splits her time between helping design and enhance Salt Flats’ services and assisting clients in discovering and defining new products, business models and cultural transformation needs.

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