It’s that time of year again! The weather is getting cooler. Pumpkin spice lattes are back on the menus. And some form of strategic planning meetings are popping up on calendars. Depending on how you feel about fall apparel, pumpkin spice everything, and being trapped in a room with your co-workers for an extended period of time, this is either an exhilarating or dreaded season.
And while we can not control the weather or the polarizing debate of PSL, we have some ideas to make your year-end meetings more productive and enjoyable.
New environments bring new ideas. Even the commute to the off-site location can spark stimulus and get the brain firing differently. It breaks people out of their routines and sets the stage for innovation. The off-site space is also neutral ground for everyone participating. Attendees can’t sit in their usual place at the conference table. There are no bad vibes or bad memories associated with the space. And for those traveling from out of town, there’s no perception of home field advantage. Plus from a productivity standpoint, being off-site really limits distractions because no one can find you.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but so often not enough time and thought is put into the actual planning and goals of strategic meetings. Sometimes the hope is that if enough smart people are in the room, magic will happen. But the reality is many times participants come unprepared because expectations are not clearly communicated. To avoid this, provide context as to the goals and objectives, define roles and identify decisions to be made or desired outcomes. It’s important to be realistic as to what you hope to accomplish as well and focus the content.
Using an independent, unbiased facilitator and notetaker allows everyone else to fully participate in the session and focus on contributing to the meeting goals. Since neither have a horse in the race, they can serve as a fresh set of eyes, provide an outsider’s perspective, and raise questions that others in the group may not feel comfortable asking based on hierarchy in the room. They also have the vitally important, yet thankless role, of keeping everyone focused, on track and moving through the agenda while capturing clear deliverables and next steps.
No matter what is to blame, human attention spans are shrinking, so it’s counterproductive and inhumane to sequester people in a room--even if it’s a new, neutral space with brightly colored furniture and white board walls--and expect them to focus for hours on end. These types of sessions and meetings should be interactive and engaging, and broken up by short energy bursts. (This doesn’t just mean breaks for people to grab a coffee.) Take 5-15 minutes every hour or so to do something completely different and unrelated to the task at hand (like a fun improv game!) to mentally and physically wake up. Yes, some may groan at the idea initially. And then those same people laugh and have fun while they’re doing it. (Yet another reason to have a facilitator so they can lead these exercises and manage the grumblers.)
Sure you work together, but do you really know your coworkers and see them as people outside of the office with families and hobbies and hidden talents? This may be one of the few times you’re all in a room together (physically or virtually), so make it count. For example, if it’s feasible, go around the room and ask everyone to share their favorite cartoon growing up or TV show they’re really into now or first concert that they attended. All of those things are really interesting and humanizing, but may not come up in casual work conversations. Even surface-level personal information like that plants the seed for deeper connections and better working relationships. And if you want to dedicate more time to team building, that’s great! Just keep it within the working hours. A post-meeting happy hour (or comedy show!) can be a fun way to unwind after a long day, but so is going home to family, friends, and/or Netflix to decompress. No one likes mandatory fun.
With the proper planning, engaging stimulus, and open minds your next year-end meeting should be more productive and fun. Oh and buy good snacks. That’s a given.