“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.” – Steve Wozniak
I’m a natural introvert – a social introvert, but an introvert. And so the Steve Wozniak quote above and the article I pulled it from, “The Rise of the New Groupthink,” play right to my instinctive bias.
But I know the value of collaboration. In the past couple of years, my work has become more about orchestrating a team than sitting in the corner pounding a piano. If you’ve got a grand vision, at some point, you’re going to need a team to carry it out.
So as a manager, I’ve put some thought into how to make the most of a collaborative environment – and in particular, how to help meetings be a place where both introverts and extroverts can flourish. “Meetings” have become synonymous in many offices with “massive soul-deadening time suck,” which is really too bad, because they can be fun, social, creative, and productive. I wouldn’t say I’ve got the formula mastered, but our meetings have produced consistently useful, actionable results.
A great team that likes and respects each other and the work they do is probably the biggest prereq for great meetings, so we’ve got it easy at myG. But a little planning wizardry helps too.
Here’s a few things I like to do:
1. Circulate prep material ahead of time, announcing clear goals for the meeting. As Nancy Ancowitz pointed out in her recent Social Capitalist Skills Session on Self-Promotion for Introverts, introverts need time to develop their ideas before they’re ready to voice them. This creates time for independent thinking, which is good for everyone.
2. Hand out prep assignments. Give employees small prep assignments to present at the meeting. This ensures that people come prepared, gets quieter employees in the habit of presenting to the group, and provides concrete material for the group to brainstorm around.
3. Vary your meeting space. To help employees be both focused and playful, get the meeting out of your normal environment. That might mean switching conference rooms, meeting in the lobby, or finding a quiet local restaurant. You need an environment that’s novel but also controlled – too many distractions, not good.
4. Satisfy both visual and aural learners. I’m completely visual, so I’m useless without a white board. You can also give employees pencil and paper and ask them to take notes. The whiteboard also helps you to make decisions and build on them during the meeting, rather than talking in circles.
5. Be George Washington, not Benito Mussolini. Stay focused on the end goal, but allow for the winding path of creative discussion. How you craft your goal can be important here: Make sure you’re not imposing a solution or being overly ambitious in your expectations for the meeting’s output. For example, if we’re holding a meeting looking for solutions to increase engagement, I might set a goal to leave with a prioritized list of 10 potential actions. After the meeting, with some more independent thinking and one-on-ones between me and fellow staff, this will ultimately become a community engagement plan. (So maybe you get your Benito on after the meeting – someone does need to make decisions, after all.)
6. Forget Standing Room Only. Finally, I would like to go on the record in saying that the “stand up meeting” I’ve seen recommended in a few place is a terrible idea if you want to get anything of substance accomplished. Just one woman’s opinion. No chairs says, “We have no time for this. We’re in a rush.” Ratcheting up anxiety kills creativity and innovation, according to a pile of data shared by Jonathan Fields during a recent Social Capitalist Event. Don’t try to instill a feeling of urgency in the team by literally pulling their seat out from under them. Instead, the meeting moderator should keep a quiet eye on the clock to push conversation to a conclusion on a schedule.
OK, stepping down from my soapbox, wondering if anyone from my team is going to leave a comment that, in fact, our meetings are a massive, soul-deadening time suck.
In the meantime, what works (or doesn’t) in your own meetings? Any other managers out there who really feel like they’ve mastered the meeting? Do tell!
Sara Grace is myGreenlight’s Program Director.