Get them wrong (as most people do), and meetings can be boring, stifling beasts that do little for productivity and morale. Done right, they can be invigorating, challenging and inspiring.
Take a leaf out of fitness start-up FITiST’s book. Founders Neda Talebian Funk and Caroline Limpert take their meetings out into the real world, pairing business planning with jogging. The endorphins and change of scene are a breeding ground for better ideas.
‘Lean meetings’ are the product of Matthew E May’s learnings as creative advisor to Toyota. He witnessed designers and engineers doing this best. They called them as they needed them, swapped facts and made decisions. May says the simplest way to efficient or lean meetings is to limit them to under 12 minutes, have one goal in mind and prepare participants beforehand so a decision can be made at the meeting. High frequency is fine, longevity is not.
But it’s also our chance meetings that need enlivening. Google’s new headquarters will open in 2015 and is laid out to maximize casual employee conversations, which were responsible for innovations such as Gmail and Street View. Steve Jobs had the toilets put in the middle of Pixar’s office, making sure people from every department would have to cross paths. And there is a science to it. Researchers at the University of Michigan studying 172 research scientists recently found that when the scientists shared the same buildings and overlapped in their daily workplace walking patterns they were significantly more likely to collaborate: For every 100 feet of “zonal overlap,” collaborations increased by up to 20%.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working with design company Gensler to provide interactive installations for tech firm Salesforce. A videoconferencing system built in to a coffee table will unite colleagues from offices around the world and a lunch buddy scheme will pair coworkers with similar interests. A voting door will pose a simple question like “Cake or pie?” and employees place their vote by walking through a yes or no door.
So, how can you revamp your routine and hold spontaneous meetings?
Raise your heart rate: jogging the streets around your office, the nearest park or seafront gives you space to shout your objections and be naturally boasted by your endorphins. You don’t have to race, walk if that suits you. Oh, and no suits.
Go the long way round: even chance meetings can come predictable if you walk the same route around the office or take the same commute. Change your launch break and fall in with the schedule of others, for a change.
Change position: Don’t sit in assigned or assumed seating. Stand up or sit cross legged on the floor. Maybe you’ll take fewer notes, feel on more of a level playing field with other attendees, get things done quicker. Chair swinging and doodling are definitely less likely. Alternatively, think of a location that will force you to change position and see how differently the group takes to it: lie on a lawn, bury your feet in a sandy beach. Rejuvenated interaction will follow.
Restructure: If your group of collaborators has got too big, have a cull. ‘Two pizza teams’ are teams big enough to be fed by two pizzas. Amazon and FedEx swear by it. This doesn’t have to be confrontational – ask your group who would like to experiment with productivity levels by reducing the size of the group. Some might be happy to be left out and if their input is greatly missed, they’ll be flattered to be asked back.
Speak first: Break the silence that settles in lifts or while waiting for the coffee machine. Ask questions or give compliments if you can’t think of anything to say. It’ll increase your list of people to go to for ideas.
Eat: Families have sworn by it for centuries. Sharing a meal is used for celebration, to show respect, hospitality. Choose a lesser-known cuisine to fire the senses.
Room with a view: Some larger companies have started using their lobby space as open work space. If you can’t leave the office, make the office work for you. Kitchens, reception areas, gardens, staff rooms – anywhere you wouldn’t normally see your collaborators.