Want to become a designer of game-changing meetings? For a very long time, meetings have been a necessary evil to achieve our work. Design thinking principles, lets you conduct meetings and advance the conversation from a human experience perspective. It allows you take into consideration the needs and opinions of all the participants to build clear, workable solution as the expected outcome.
For someone who spends dizzying 1500 plus hours in meetings every year, you don’t need telling that it's often a sheer waste of time. There are too many and often tend to drag longer than necessary. You and your colleagues dread this time blocked on the calendar, or while attending doze off or start checking emails or play a game or post the ordeal tell others what a waste of time the last meeting was over a chat at the water cooler.
All this because often there is no clear agenda and an expected outcome or items higher on the list get more attention regardless of their importance.
Sometimes you realize the attendee’s vocal chords get infected with Bike Shed Effect otherwise known as ‘Parkinson's Law of Triviality.' It is the tendency of people in organizations to give undue attention to trivial issues and details. As a result, they don’t speak on complex or important matters as they don’t want to increase their workload or step into other people’s shoes or embarrass themselves in front of the overconfident loudmouths, who by the way may not be that knowledgeable.
Wanting to appear engaged they focus by contributing on unnecessary stuff instead, as a result: triviality progressively comes to dominate.
In most such meetings there is almost no mention of the customer, a critical component of business. Quite often these meetings are more about solving internal problems. You may be shocked to realize that the employees in your organization are usually unaware that unsuspecting customers often face the impact of their well-intended isolated decisions. The question then, in the current experience economy, becomes more around the fact that can companies afford to forget the customer in their meetings?
So let’s assume you have sent a calendar invite that assembles a cross-functional team, have stated the stated the purpose, created a link with how this affects the customer and established the expected outcome of the meeting. Here are ten things you can do to make the meeting mere effective. Do note that it’s not a full instructional piece on design thinking. These are few things I have seen work.
Get the cross-functional team in the room and find common ground – A cross-functional team includes people with different expertise, information, resources and authority to take decisions so that no can shirk responsibility. Briefly, communicate the purpose of the gathering and the expected outcomes. The customer problem statement and internal conflicts are not to point fingers at each other. To get the attendee’s undivided attention, treat it as information to find common ground.
Give equal airtime to all participants and don’t be the judge –Accept the fact that all are not vocal, so encourage the shy/ scared ones to contribute. Even the strange or mindless ideas can be a trigger to newer ideas and can be shaped into a solution. So set a time limit for each participant to speak. Your intent is to increase participation, so give the freedom to express freely without the fear of being ridiculed, bur let them know if they are vague or verbose. Yes, this means the meeting can stretch, but as you don’t know who has the best idea or solution, it’s important to get everyone sharing their thoughts and perspectives.
Recognize when people are switched off - If participants are constantly sneaking emails on their smartphones or laptops, are having sub-meetings or dozing off, rather than writing down relevant notes or want to share their views, it is a strong signal to that the meeting is not going in the right direction. At the outset, observe the attitudes, behaviors, commitment and motivation levels of the participants and fine tune from there to create the dynamics.
Stay on topic - As humans, we have a comparatively short attention span As the moderator you have to set attainable goals and establish priorities and ensure the team stays on track. Creativity should be encouraged but not at the cost of sacrificing the solution to the problem at hand. And as a moderator, you need to step in and politely remind the attendees of this intent. You need to carefully tread as it can become counterproductive and shut down people from opening up. You don’t want to get a feel that this meeting is no different from ones in the past. You may advise them to crystallize their thoughts offline and share their idea and insights with the larger team at a later date.
Get the experts to step in and be responsible – As a moderator or facilitator, you can’t always get the limelight, remember others are creative too. If there is a subject matter expert among the participants, invite them to drive the discussion on a particular topic, to keep things moving quickly. It keeps you from faltering and keeps participants alert and ready to speak and waiting for their turn to be recognized and appreciated by a larger audience.
Get them to stretch their boundaries – Getting logical brain to start thinking creatively; you will have to be patience and help clear the cobwebs in the unused right-brain. As humans, we unconsciously tend to be affected by loss or pain, than by the gains. So often people share ideas or choose options without realizing how the rational brain works. So you need to learn to say no, even when you want to say yes to few things. Probe them and ask them critical questions
Explore all the possible alternatives and arrive at decisions based on context– We have the tendency to jump to the first plausible idea to reach a solution. But, decisions can’t be made in a vacuum and has to be based on context. The golden rule is “Every idea shared is valuable.” However, while shortlisting, evaluating the different choices for comparison and finalizing the ideas, you need to consider the ground realities and what can be executed realistically within a reasonable timeframe and budget. At times because of constraints, you may not deliver the perfect, long-term solution, but you will arrive at a better, short-term solution. The point is to get started and then work towards a holistic solution.
Celebrate the achievements – Check with the participants – If they learned something new by stretching their boundaries? How can it impact their work-life balance? By highlighting the number of ideas generated, the solution that will not just delight customers but also save time, cost for the company, increased collaboration and teaming and recognition beyond your department and anything else that you would have achieved. Celebrate the success you have achieved.
Make it fun, make it a game - Be dependable and available – Accept your authority without being authoritarian in the meeting. As a coach, you are trying to set a bar – a score that you aim to achieve as a team, establish how you can collectively make it happen. Write this on a wall and communicate this to the team. At times, the outcomes from these meetings may ask them to step-up and learn new, and people may uncertain or resist and will want to seek clarifications. Post multiple such meetings; people will start seeing the difference and want to adapt this change. Be around to guide them.
Don’t be shy, take help – You can’t single handily manage the meeting and its outcomes. So take help for little things – ensure projector is working, making the props available, bringing in refreshments and keep track of time.
We welcome you to share your views and experiences on how you’ve used a design thinking mindset to progress your meetings.