4 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Meaningful

If you’re reading this, and you work for a company that does …anything…chances are that you hate meetings. You find them wildly unproductive and time consuming. Janet forgot to mute her line again, Karen and Bill are never on time, Debbie always wins the award for loudest snacker, and Bob is clearly working on other things.

This is a vicious cycle that results in more meetings! Don’t believe me? Check out my highly technical graphic of a typical workplace meeting…

Here’s the good news! You can break this cycle. Need to call a meeting? I encourage you to try one of these collaboration techniques below. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the level of engagement and outcomes from your meetings.


For the meetings that run too long.

Ok, so this first one isn’t as much of a collaboration technique…it’s really just logical. Let’s say you schedule your meeting from 2pm to 3pm. Have you ever actually gotten a full hour from that meeting? No. My guess is that you got 40 minutes at best.

Meetings are instantly less frustrating once you realize that it involves other humans, who have human brains. It is unrealistic to think that your coworkers are high-functioning robots and will show up right at 2pm and leave the second the clock hits 3pm.

Instead of getting mad at people for being people, schedule your meetings differently! If you know that your group usually runs 15 minutes over, schedule the meeting until 2:45, but book the room until 3. That way, when your group inevitably goes over the time limit, you’re getting the conversation you expected, but you’re not interfering with the group who has the meeting room next.

If your group tends to show up a little late, account for that time when deciding what you want to discuss. Then you’re not forcing an agenda that is too big for the actual time available.


For the meetings that have way too many people.

This is for those of you that have realized there are just way too many people in the room. This is usually because the person calling the meeting wants a lot of different opinions, or there are a lot of people that are insistent their presence is absolutely necessary. The good news is, this is typically out of good intent…everyone wants to be involved!

The concept is simple. It’s called Fishbowl Discussions and it’s taken directly from classrooms. So if it works with hyper and distracted children, it should be no problem for your co-workers. Basically, you have a group of anywhere from three to five people that are ‘in the fishbowl” In reality these people may be at a whiteboard, in front of a computer, or at a table. Throughout the meeting, they are the ones talking to one another and working out the ideas.

Everyone else is outside of the fishbowl. What can you do outside of the fishbowl? Show up late, leave the meeting altogether, check email, think of things to contribute to the meeting, daydream… anything nondisruptive really. What can’t you do outside of the fishbowl? Talk.


For the meetings that wander off in a million different directions.

It always starts with good intention… “Not to change the subject completely, but I think that it’s important to note…” Too late Jody! You just changed the subject! If this seems to be a common occurrence with your team, maybe it’s time you give LeanCoffee a try.

LeanCoffee is described as a “structured, but agenda-less meeting” and it really is effective. Actual coffee is optional. The core of this meeting style is very democratic in nature. Together, we decide what we want to talk about, and what’s most important to discuss first. It starts by setting up a very simple Kanban board. It is nothing more than 3 post-its that say: To Discuss, Discussing, & Discussed.

To kick things off, everyone attending the meeting silently brainstorms for about 2-3 minutes on topics they think are important. The etiquette is one idea per post-it. After that, everyone has the chance to pitch their ideas. Try to keep your pitch to 2-3 minutes, or else you’re kind of missing the point…

Once everyone gets a chance to pitch, we get to prioritize. Everyone gets 3 dot votes. Dot voting is a ~very complicated~ process. Ready for it? You draw dots on the posts its you want to discuss. You can even allocate all three of your dots to one idea if you feel it truly is the most important.

Finally, it’s time to actually start discussing your ideas. You start with the one that was voted most important and set a timer for seven minutes. After seven minutes, everyone silently gives a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Did most people give a thumbs up? Great that means the room feels good about the topic and we can move on. Did most people give a thumbs down? Set the timer for two more minutes and let the discussion continue. Re evaluate the thumbs up/down after the two minutes. Did someone try to put a neutral thumb? We will count that as a thumbs down.

The most important part here is after the meeting is complete. It’s the last sip of the coffee. Discuss your takeaways. After you’ve gotten through the topics, it is important to come back together to gain shared understanding.


For the meetings where someone’s idea always gets shot down.

Everyone has been in that meeting before. Someone has an idea with serious potential. If only you didn’t have Negative Nancy in the back corner giving 100 reasons why there’s no way it will ever, ever, … ever work. That negativity can spread pretty quickly. Next thing you know, a potentially great idea was shot down before it even had the chance to work.

This is where 6 Thinking Hats comes in handy. The concept is pretty simple. We all put on a “hat” of the same color at the same time. Different colors represent different mindsets. For example, when we all have the white hat on, we are only allowed to discuss factual things about the idea. This would include data, information, what we know, what we need to learn etc…

Now to do this, you need someone to make sure the process of 6 Thinking Hats is not being violated. If a team member starts to talk about their feelings when we are supposed to be discussing facts, the appointed “process person” is responsible for saying something along the lines of “that’s a great point, let’s save that for when we are all wearing the red hat.”

Each hat has a different, yet important purpose that allows conversation to flow more smoothly and allow for fully understanding an idea or problem.

When using 6 Thinking Hats, you’re allowing the conversation to flow in a manner that actually makes sense. No longer are you sitting in the room wondering what the hell is going on and how we got here. When everyone is thinking in the same mindset at the same time, it allows us to think in a more analytical manner collectively.

So, if you’ve made it this far, I assume you hate the way your meetings are currently run, and maybe you’ve gotten some improvement ideas. The challenge is to actually try something new in your next meeting. Remember… insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If you don’t actively work to make your meetings more productive, you can’t expect anything to change. But hey, at least you have Candy Crush on your phone when the meetings get too unbearable.