Let’s face it: meetings can be seriously hard work.

We’ve all been in the meeting where the only tangible outcome is to decide you need another meeting. Or the one where the loudest, most overbearing people dominate to the exclusion of more introverted types.

Today we have ineffectual video calls instead. Lots of video calls. Ones where everyone tries to talk at the same time. Or where Sarah’s wi-fi connection keeps dropping out. Or people forget to unmute themselves while delivering a rambling, five-minute monologue of dubious relevance to the subject at hand. And then take offence when no one responds.

If your reaction to meetings is ‘oh, god, not another one’ – in the face of all this, it’s entirely understandable.

But what if meetings were enjoyable, fun, even?

Imagine it. Meetings where everyone gets involved and good ideas get generated. Findings from the meeting are recorded and actioned. Any changes that need to be made are made. And people actually look forward to the next meeting.

Creating great meetings like this shouldn’t be beyond us, but it’s often the case that team get-togethers don’t fulfil their potential. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps we can take to create better meetings.

Here are five things that can help.

1. Plan the meeting and set its goal.

Okay, not the most fun one to start with, but that doesn’t mean its not crucial. Many meetings are scuppered before they even start due to lack of planning. Ask yourself beforehand what the goal of the meeting is. What do you want to achieve? What should be on the agenda to get there?

Develop a clear plan for how you want the meeting to run and check over it periodically to make sure you’ve achieved everything you need it to. Providing a structure for the meeting before it takes place will really help it stop drifting into irrelevant topics, and focus people’s minds on the desired outcome.

2. Break the ice.

One of the aims of the meeting should be to involve everyone. Research shows that only 20% of people in meetings typically fully contribute to them. That’s a wasted opportunity. In an ideal meeting, everyone participates to their full potential.

At Spoon London, our morning team meetings always begin with an icebreaker question that everyone gets the chance to answer before we get down to business. It gets the whole team involved right from the beginning.

Remote meetings can be particularly prone to lack of inclusion, so making sure to give each team member the chance to speak from the off is a great idea. Video calls also suffer from participants becoming steadily more and more disengaged. You can keep people interested by setting periodic tasks for the team every few minutes, breaking up the meeting into sections. This works wonders for sustaining attention and engagement.

3. Generate a playful atmosphere.

In behavioural science, ‘priming’ refers to the concept that introducing a certain stimulus to people influences how they go on to behave. The classic example is Bargh’s 1996 experiment where he asked a group to read about older people struggling to move quickly or flexibly. When that group subsequently moved from one room to another they walked slower than a control group – simply because they’d been ‘primed’ with the thought of older people moments before.

If you want people to enjoy your meeting, set a fun, humorous or celebratory tone from the off. Tell a joke, raise a smile. You’ll influence team members as you do, creating a ‘halo effect’ of positivity for you and your meeting, and making achieving its desired outcome even more likely.

Another tip: people are much more inclined to give back if they feel they’ve already received something – in fact studies show that reciprocity to be a very powerful persuasive tool. So, give people something to smile about, and do it first. They’ll more than likely return the favour afterwards.

4. Give people psychological safety.

Everyone should feel that the meeting is a safe environment where they can put forward ideas comfortably – in fact it’s a prerequisite for the most high-performing teams. So give participants roughly equal airtime to create an atmosphere where people can contribute without fear. There should be “a shared belief by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”, says Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School.

LEGO Serious Play provides a way to de-personalise conversations, bringing ideas to the table without personal attachment or judgement – thanks to being able to use LEGO to express them. ‘Thinking with your hands’ in this way can spur disinhibition and innovation among team members, helping create a psychologically safe environment.

5. Reflect on the meeting and learn from what’s taken place.

Throughout the meeting, it can be helpful to give team members time and space to reflect individually before bringing their thoughts back to the group – it helps make sure people aren’t influenced by others’ answers before they give their own. The subsequent discussion should allow everyone to contribute so that collectively, the group generates the best ideas they can.

Build in some time to reflect on the meeting at the end as well, and allow everyone to do a check-out (what they liked, didn’t like or have questions about). Reflecting on the meeting and putting in place any action points means everyone is crystal clear on their next steps (and on what the point of the meeting was in the first place).

Follow these simple guidelines, and we’re confident your meetings will go up a level. As LEGO Serious Play facilitator Richard Gold says, “Meetings need to be viewed as where the magic happens, where the team becomes more than the sum of its parts.”

Start with a clear plan, set the right tone and get everyone involved, and those magical meetings will soon be on the way.

Want to use the latest insights from behavioural science to enhance the creativity of your team? Get in touch.

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