Meetings are such a big part of our workdays – and even take up much of our leisure time – that there is always the risk of creativity suffering a slow and painful death to routine thinking.
Consider the last few meetings you have attended, be it at work, in the sports club, or in your kids’ school. Can you honestly claim attending with full attention and participation, and not once giving in to random thoughts of grocery shopping, holiday destinations, or simply looking forward to coming home and going for an evening run?
Most people are creatures of habit and we do not waste much time thinking about seating in a meeting room, we will simply choose the same spot we had last time. And the time before that. This makes everything quite easy for us, but habitual thinking inherently holds the risk of repeating behaviour from the last meeting, and the one before, and the one before that…
This is a challenge that a meeting leader can and ought to address. Firstly, the leader should break with his or her own habitual thinking and give the meeting a different frame from all the others, although keeping in mind it might not be a good idea to rent a conference room and go above and beyond spending the annual budget all at once.
Perhaps it will suffice to book a different meeting room than last time? Or take your meetings standing up – which could also produce the side effect of a meeting running shorter than usual. You could also put on your coat and conduct a walk and talk meeting beginning with a short briefing of everyone attending and having them discuss the matters walking about in small groups. Another option is swapping meeting rooms with other businesses located in your area. New settings give new impressions and result in a decreased risk of doing what you always do.
Give surprises voice
It is one thing to mix up the setting and location of a meeting, but involving and activating the meeting attendees is something quite different. Depending on the specific culture, meetings risk becoming a one-way street of the leader setting the tone and employees then simply giving their feedback and reports of the issues at hand.
Try, if you can, to imagine the meeting as an arena with participants challenging and giving off knowledge to each other. A good thing to break the rhythm is securing space and time to simply wonder. Try taking small breaks during the meeting and posing the question “What surprises you?” It may be in regard to a discussion you just had, or a presentation given by an attendee brining new information to the meeting.
Asking meeting participants of their surprises causes them to reflect on the knowledge they just received and put it into their own words. This leads to everyone contemplating and talking about the knowledge and changing it from internal to external processing.
An attendee might relay the news of entering into a co-operation agreement with another organisation, and some people at the meeting might not be aware of an existing relationship with this organisation, and maybe they had never even heard of the existence of the project of assignment related to the co-operation agreement.
This surprise can turn out to be of great value. It may be quite alright that not everyone knows all about each detail of your business, but the case in many businesses is that key information and goings on are not communicated clearly to everyone in the organisation, and that may be a problem and you cannot address it until it is clearly known.
Remember these tricks:
- Change the setting now and then to challenge routine thinking and create more dynamic meetings.
- Take chances and trust the benefits of different meeting forms to be of more value than the comfort of doing business as usual
- Ask meeting participants to share what surprises them and let their answers give you insights into your own internal communication and sharing of knowledge