Everyone hates meetings. Somebody is usually talking too long, or their idea is heading into a random direction. Your attention is shot with what is going on outside the window. The person next to you is doodling some kind of magical forest, and everyone’s cabooses are permanently paralyzed by the uncomfortable board room chairs. I think I can safely say, we’ve all been there. As much as meetings get a bad rap, they are a universal part of business life. Although there are many different kinds and styles of meetings, they all serve the same objective–to foster teamwork and help the business do a better job.
When I worked for a previous company, I had to go to a lot of those dreaded meetings. We’d all gather in a stuffy room with our notepads ready to listen and brainstorm, and within a half hour – our capacity for creative thinking was completely turned off. Some of us even had some great ideas, but they were over shadowed by someone talking too much or our own insecurity to share.
Hugh MacLeod, the popular cartoonist and guru of creativity, explains that “Creativity is hard in meetings, because nobody wants to be seen to be wrong in public. So people hold back. Therefore, the first thing you got to do is get the idea of “wrong” (or “right”) out of your head. Instead, think of creativity not as a “result” to be put into the team meeting basket, but as a gift you have been given, as a gift you have inside you, ready to pop out and give to the world. Creativity is an act of love.”
Here at FatWallet, we have a lot of meetings. From morning staff updates to monthly pow-wow sessions, there is usually something to discuss or an idea to share. It’s hard not to be envious when you read about a Google or Apple that leads the way in innovative work places and formative meeting stations. However, I think FatWallet holds a productive approach to running a successful meeting. If your company is drowning the creativity boat during meetings, check out these ways that you can turn it around, and jump start those juices.
- Meet me in the Fort: Remember when you were a kid, and forts were the base of all decision making. You’d meet up with your friends and go over what the next playtime activity was going to be. Take that childhood energy and push it into a workplace meeting. You don’t have to create an elaborate jungle theme like Google’s Zurich office nor do you have to tear down your office walls. Work with what you have. The more comfortable people are in an environment, the more likely they will be willing to share their ideas and contribute to the conversation. At FatWallet, we have an area called “The Fishbowl”. It features a few bar stools, some couches, and an amazing view of the Rock River. It allows us to generate valuable work discussions in a more relaxed atmosphere.
- Pump up the Jams: Even though music can sometimes be distracting, it can also help foster your creativity. One of FatWallet’s busiest times is during Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season. To inspire some holiday content ideas, we played our Pandora Christmas music station during a brainstorming session. It may be cheesy, but it helps establish a certain atmosphere and tone.
- Pass Me the Jolly Ranchers: Food and drinks are important to have on hand during meetings. You never know if the meeting will run a little longer than expected, and the extra push of sugar can spark something brewing in your head. In the FatWallet kitchen, they have a power-blender that everyone uses to make smoothies. Invest a few dollars and buy one for the company. You can even make it a part of your “creative juices” theme – everyone has to bring in their own concocted juice recipe. Too metaphorical? Yeah, perhaps!
- Game Time: Start with a game that will get everyone to shift into a creative mode. It could either be a brain teaser or trivia question. It may have nothing to do with the meeting goal, but it changes the focus and that is important. We often have “road blocks” when it comes to creative thinking, and games open up those doors. If your office isn’t decked out with video games or pool tables, fear not. Grab a white board and play a quick game of HangMan or revert back to the traditional paper toss challenge.
- Get up and Get Moving: If the team is in need of new solutions, give each person a pad of post-it notes. Allow them to roam the room, write their ideas down, and stick them to a wall or white board. This creates an opportunity for more people to contribute since as we mentioned earlier, some team members might be apprehensive to share. Also, moving the limbs, and stretching out is a great brain booster. The aerobic movement increases the oxygen flow, and helps clear the mind.
- Enter the Stone Age: Try to utilize the “stone age” approach to creative thinking. Go into a meeting with just a notepad, a pen, and an open mind. Often times, team members can distract themselves from the agenda at hand if they have their laptop up or a cell phone nearby. We are all guilty of it. Come up with a “no technology at meetings” policy and utilize it when you need to. If someone shows up with their computer, slap them with a dunce hat. Believe me, it’s been done at FatWallet and I may or may not have worn it.
- Become the Next Picasso: If you are huge doodler in meetings, then why not utilize and promote this more often in your meetings? Visual note taking and drawing helps people better capture ideas and creatively solve problems in the moment. By sketching out ideas, you can get people to see on the same page, and they will be more likely to engage and contribute in the process. In one of the FatWallet conference rooms, somebody traced their hand like a turkey numerous times, and wrote ideas in them. We usually laughed when we saw them, but it was a creative and illustrative way to brainstorm.
- It’s 5’clock Somewhere: Lastly, bring booze to the meeting. I’m not talking about hosting a keggar in the board room, but perhaps cracking a nice bottle of wine between a few team members. It’s an outlet for people to be more social than usual, and share ideas easier. Over the summer, a few FatWallet employees hosted a group called “Cheap Wine Fridays” where we sampled different wines under $10. It helped bring new employees together, and get to know each other. If alcohol is frowned upon at your workplace, then I must pass on my deepest condolences to you. However, you can always host a nice dinner or happy hour outside the office to spur those creative juices.
Taking just these small little steps will help stimulate new ideas and have people not dreading those meeting reminders. What are some additional ways that you think you and your teammates can institute to be more creative in meetings?