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Cultivating Culture, One Meeting at a Time

Bad meetings suck the life out of people and can also lead to bad decisions, reduced motivation, and conflicts - yet, for many, meeting time continues to increase. If the goal is to have fun, positive meetings, where all participants can speak their mind, where new ideas are generated and where the time is used as efficiently as possible, we need to try something slightly new.

A good meeting is: 

  • Efficient – so stuff gets done
  • Positive and fun - so people enjoy themselves and look forward to the next meeting
  • Participative – so everyone participates equally, instead of zoning out or multi-tasking
  • Open – so people say what they really think 
  • Creative – so there is thinking “outside the box” 

The usual tips about how to run meetings are good, like “start and end on time”, “have an agenda”, “make sure the right people are present”, etc., but they do not address the goals above. If we really want open, fun, creative, participative, and efficient meetings we need to go beyond standard advice and try something new. And, done right, these tips can also help to increase the culture of your company, which is something our Foundant team prides itself on. 

5 easy ways for cultivating culture in meetings:

  • Start with a “culture moment” 

The way a meeting starts sets the tone. If you begin the meeting with complaints or problems, that is what you’ll get. If you start your meeting with something positive, the rest of the meeting is more likely to be fun and successful. Here are some ways the facilitator can open up the meeting by asking one or two simple questions:
Cheers for Peers (we here at Foundant almost always start our large team meeting this way - by giving recognition to a person who has helped you or one of our clients recently and truly made a difference). 

Name one thing you’ve accomplished since the last meeting that you’re proud of. 

Mention one thing you’re looking forward to in the coming weeks. 

Mention something interesting you have learned since the last meeting. 

  • Interrupt the meeting regularly 

Anything longer than 30 minutes and you need to interrupt the flow of the meeting regularly. Of course, you want to make the most of your meeting time, but having these mini-breaks will keep people focused and make the whole thing more fun and relaxed. Try this: 

A five-minute break every hour is not an option, it’s mandatory! You can’t have a productive meeting if half the group are in need of a restroom break.

Second, every half hour, do a quick two-minute creative break of some kind. You can get people to stand up and stretch, or move around the room and change seats, whatever you choose, make it something fun and light-hearted that activates people in some way. Use a timer and set it to 30 minutes to make sure you remember the creative breaks.

  • Lose the table 

What purpose do tables really serve at a meeting, except to give you a place to put down your coffee cup and laptop (which should be closed, and I’ll talk more about this in a minute)? There are many advantages to table-less meetings:

Communication flows better because you can see the entire person, not just from the chest up.

You increase participation because people can’t simply slump down and hide throughout the meeting 

Seating people in a (table-less) circle is a great option because it signals that everyone is equal. Granted, when you have folks dialing in remotely this is a different challenge, however, if you have the ability to turn video on for both the remote employee and the group of employees in the main room, it will help that you can see the person’s face and body language.  

  • Get more attention 

Here are two terrific items from a corporate blog: Check your phone at the door and leave your laptop off and closed. No reading email or browsing through something else. If people need to take notes, they can use paper. Taking notes by hand improves retention, and it keeps an object of potential distraction out of reach. Also, consider having an official set of notes. This doesn't invalidate individual note taking, certain details may be more important to some people than others, but it's also good to have an official version for reference.

  • Follow up 

It is a rare meeting where everyone goes off and nothing needs to be done afterward. As the facilitator, you’ll need to follow up with people to ensure they do what they said they would.  

Yes, adding these things to a meeting will take a little time out of the schedule, but I think we all know the problem with bad meetings is not how much time we spend in them, it’s the quality of that time. It’s whether we spend that time being energized, creative, and having fun or whether we spend it wishing we could be back at our desks doing some “real” work. 

About the Author

For more than a decade, Foundant Technologies has specialized exclusively in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through intuitive technology solutions. All of our cloud-based solutions focus on grantmaker, grantseeker, scholarship provider and community foundation needs with the goal to make day-to-day tasks streamlined and help maximize the impact of the philanthropic community.

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