The Power of Place: Making Meetings Magic
by: Jennifer Simpson
Integrated Work will be celebrating its 22nd year this April. Over the past two decades we have built a reputation for helping leaders re-imagine what the future of work looks like.
During that time, we’ve discovered how much it matters to be intentional about the spaces that support the work you are trying to accomplish. Most of us have experienced the frustrations of long conferences and meetings in windowless rooms with uncomfortable chairs. Not only do we not do our best thinking in those environments; we often don’t remember much of what we heard or learned.
On the other hand, spaces with natural light invite movement and have a positive effect; people feel energized, more creative, and are better able to digest and retain information. We’ve designed our new offices with these principles in mind. Even if your workplace has environmental constraints, here are some simple questions you can ask yourself to incorporate human-first principles into your gatherings so participants can do their best work:
- What kind of meeting is it? – Are you setting a vision for your future, planning a long-term strategy, building your team, developing skills or sharing information? Perhaps you are engaging your Board or other key stakeholders, or are you just working to move key tasks along? The nature of the work will inform how long the meeting should be, how the room should be set up, and what success looks like.
- What mood/experience do you want to create? – Do you need to be focused and efficient, or are you out to inspire and motivate? Could your team use a little more play and fun in their lives, or do you have tough decisions ahead that require a more respectful and serious tone? Getting clear about the mood you want to set allows you to be intentional about everything from lighting to music as well as the best facilitation tools and technology to help participants get in the right frame of mind for the work at hand.
- What size will your meeting be? – Too often people are invited to meetings out of habit or a desire not to offend, or people are excluded because of role or rank instead of included because of what they have to contribute. Different size meetings lend themselves to different levels of engagement and shape the group’s ability to make decisions. Consider what the right size is to accomplish your goals and curate participation to create the outcomes you are after.
- How long will it be? – The days of digital calendars have caused many of us to schedule meetings for the default time—often an hour. This contributes to jam-packed schedules and not enough breathing room between meetings. For longer events, while it’s tempting to fit in as much content as possible on an agenda, doing so can inhibit people’s ability to shift gears and be reflective. When you consider how long your meeting should be, think about what is necessary to get the work done well and design accordingly.
- Who will be in the room? – Much like considering the size of the meeting, considering the composition of the group matters too. Will the group be senior executives or front-line staff? Will there be a mix of levels and roles in the room? What is the nature of each participants’ contribution? Do they know each other well, or are they new to one another? Being a little thoughtful about social engineering can go a long way toward getting the team to engage effectively.
- What else is going on? – Regardless of what we are out to accomplish or what mood we hope to set, failure to address other factors in the environment can really derail a meeting. Is there conflict in the group? Are you facing a major transition of some sort? Is the team just forming or are you trying to get people to engage across functions in unfamiliar ways? Are there financial or market concerns that might be on people’s minds? Naming these things up front, or finding thoughtful ways to address them in your meeting will support the transparency that allows participants to be more fully present to the work at hand.
Asking yourself these questions early in your planning process can make all the difference in designing meetings and events that accomplish your goals and make otherwise ho-hum (or even painful) meetings truly effective and magical.