Release the Prisoners (of Meetings)!

Conference Room Table

photo courtesy of – Unsplash

During my frequent incarcerations, I’ve texted friends to find out where we are meeting for dinner, checked stock market quotes and calculated whether I can afford a European vacation next summer.   My detainers were paying no attention and had no idea that these activities were going on right under their noses. On behalf of corporate prisoners of meetings being held captive in board rooms for countless hours around the globe, I’m pleading for release. 

Boring at best and frustrating at their worst, meetings fuel many complaints about what is wrong at work.  The list of meeting crimes highlighted in an article by Fast Company including not taking meetings seriously, lacking critical information and never making a decision are committed by companies of all shapes and sizes in every industry.

Yet, we remain prisoners to the ritual of corporate lock up.  According to various studies, an estimated $50 billion of productivity is being needlessly surrendered yearly in the US alone.  On top of that, disengagement, discouragement and apathy of employees resulting from meeting insanity robs organizations of ideas and valuable input.

There’s no question that rehabilitation starts with implementing meeting basics – establishing a purpose, developing a clear agenda, inviting the right people and the availability of relevant information etc. The reality is that most people have their days crammed with demands whether personal or professional, not a minute isn’t scheduled.  By the time they arrive for a meeting, attention is stretched and strained and the emotional baggage they are carrying weighs more than their laptops.  Imagine if meeting owners took a few minutes to get the group centered, focused and ready to contribute?  In return, we would reform behavior and be engaged and fully participating in the discussion.

One approach I’ve come to appreciate more fully for meetings is adapted from the field of improvisation.  I love using improv techniques because are about awareness and personal communication, require no complicated materials and they provide people a chance to tap into their natural creativity.  It also requires being in the moment and committing one’s full attention.  Using improv in my meetings also forces me to do a few things differently.Improvisation

Accept: As a meeting owner, I have to be more mentally aware of what state of mind I’m in and make sure it is positive.  Before I can convince others to be open and engaged, I have to be there myself.  Improv demands a positive mindset so if I’ve had a tough phone call with a customer or a disagreement with my spouse, I need to put it aside and focus on preparing to accept what is about to come my way in the next interaction.   A simple and highly effective practice is to concentrate on breathing.

Try this: close your eyes and take in a deep breath.  Slowly release your breath on a count of five.  Repeat 5 times. This calms the chatter in the brain, helps deal with the tension and clears one’s mind for walking into that board room.  It’s crazy how often we don’t take the time to simply get ready.

Acknowledge:  Athletes warm up as a team before a game, performers warm up by stretching and using vocal exercises and yet in the corporate world, we launch straight into a battle for attention and ideas without any sort of preparation beyond reading a few documents. Because no one was paying a shred of attention the entire time, we end up scheduling meetings to discuss meetings and a never ending loop of non-decision.  It’s up to the meeting owner to set the stage for tapping into creativity and engaging the power of teamwork by getting everyone involved.

Try this: A simple exercise is called One Word.  Start the meeting by asking each person to give one word that best describes how he or she is feeling at that exact moment.   It’s a fast easy way to understand where the energy is and it builds empathy, a key ingredient in team work and driving results. 

Accelerate:  Everyone is warmed up, listening and ready to contribute.  Now it’s time to accelerate to results.  Encourage people to think yes, be positive and build on ideas.  Meeting owners needs to listen for everyone’s unique voice and watch carefully for adjustments and changes required in the moment.  In improv this is spontaneity. In corporate, the translation is agility.

Try this: If ideas are coming up that aren’t on the agenda, go with it, you’ll get more and better results in the long term.   Deal with time management by conducting a check, pause and make an action plan of what to do with the ideas or discussion generated.  Since the group has been actively generating the discussion, they are likely to want to further it by stepping up for the action items and supporting decisions in the meeting.

In conclusion, it’s time to take back meetings. Accepting the need to prepare beyond meeting basics, acknowledging the responsibility to get everyone connected and then building on those connections will drive results.  Release the corporate prisoners of meeting and we can all focus on releasing untapped creativity and potential!