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Build Collaboration into Your Meetings to Innovate

Business meetings can be horribly ineffective, yet with a set of small hacks you can unleash the productivity and innovation your company desperately needs. Here’s the good news, all you need is some Post-It Notes and a phone.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: February 3, 2016

How many business meetings have your sat through and thought, “that was a total waste of my life force” or “I’ll never get that time back in my life?”

When you’re in a meeting how many people can speak at one time? The answer is one, unless folks are interrupting each other which is a whole different problem. So you have a meeting of the most important people in your business and you’re limited to one voice at a time. Ever notice that meetings are always dominated by a few extroverts and then there are others that rarely if ever say one word (the introverts)?

The current setup of your business meetings is building in unnecessary constraints to your productivity and limiting the participation by those who are more introverted in nature because typical live meetings allow just one form of communication (verbal). How do you solve for this challenge?

Fix Your Meeting Limitations:

  1. If you actually want collaboration in meetings, you have to integrate ways to get everyone contributing at once; with timed limitations (constraints are good meeting practice).
  2. Use tools that allow introverts to contribute in a comfortable fashion (non-verbal options).

Here are some examples of how this has been implemented and what results you can enjoy if you put a little effort into figuring out how to invest in collaborative meetings.

We were hosting a meeting with a large print organization. There were 20+ people in a room for two full days of meeting. First of all let’s make sure everyone is aware of the costs of this meeting. I’m not talking about what the franchise organization paid us to be there because that was peanuts compared to the cost of their top people being taken out of their jobs for two full days. We fail to calculate the costs of our internal time and especially the opportunity cost of our internal time, when we’re in meetings what is not getting done that generates revenue or cuts costs?

Twenty plus people in a meeting for two days, one person speaking at a time, 19 others “listening” and more often than not “multi-tasking” which is really another way to say, “not paying attention or being engaged.” When we consider the common practice of checking e-mails, texting, and other silliness that goes on during live meetings, then we’re really talking about a waste of time. If you’re prioritizing the objectives of your meeting enough to meet in person, ask that everyone leave the devices closed. Multi-tasking is an urban myth; it really stands for “doing more than one thing half as good.”

In the large print organization meeting, we did an exercise with my favorite collaboration tool, the Post-It Note. I carry a stack of Post-It Notes with me at all times. We set the timer on my iPhone to two minutes and then we asked the group a question. Every single member of the group was thinking about the question/challenge at the same time under a time constraint. When the two minutes are up we ask each person to present one of their ideas (one idea per Post-It Note), we weed out the duplicates, and present until we have a large group of ideas and lively discussion.

With this cheap tool (the Post-It Note) and the timer on our phone we created collaboration that involved everyone in the meeting, in a very efficient manner. The best part of this exercise is that the defining idea that shifted the whole meeting came from an individual who worked in the legal department and hadn’t said one word for the first 6 hours of the meeting. We did it. We used Post-It Notes and our phone to get the best of everyone in the meeting, in a setting that was comfortable to them. The idea was already inside the organization, we just applied the right tools to uncover it.

This week I was in a brainstorming meeting for a print software technology company. We were helping them come up with a pricing strategy. Every software company has to determine what drives their pricing strategy so that the value their solution creates is consistent with the revenue they charge for the product. So for print software, common drivers of pricing models are: number of print plants, printing presses, websites, users, and optional modules. When you simply talk about this challenge in a group setting, you can talk forever. Someone suggests something, another says why it won’t work, and it can and will go on forever without getting to a decision.

I recommended we run the following activity, which is relevant to many business challenges. Pass out the Post-It Notes, set the timer, and ask a very clearly stated question; “what are the potential drivers of your pricing strategy?” After three minutes we came up with 25+ different drivers, no filtering yet – just throw out the duplicates. Then we came up with the characteristics we wanted the print software pricing model to meet for both the customer and the print software vendor.

  1. Easy to understand, simple (if you need a decoder ring, you missed the mark)
  2. Win-win
  3. Easy to get into
  4. No administration necessary (automated)
  5. Easy to calculate your risk
  6. Based on relevant value indicators
  7. Vendor has access to all the data

We took the 25 different drivers that we came up with in the Post-It Note exercise and evaluated each one based on the above criteria. Only four pricing drivers survived the evaluation. In about 25 minutes of collaborative activity, we generated a new pricing strategy for this print software vendor. Now that was a meeting worth the money required to put us all in the same room!

Consider revamping your meetings to actually build collaboration and engagement from all corners of your company. Group think grows out of the same meetings with the same people dominating the conversation and lots of good ideas trapped inside your employees who aren’t comfortable with group verbal conversations. Our culture celebrates the extrovert, yet study after study shows that introverts are better leaders. Innovation comes from everywhere; don’t limit the innovative resources in your own company by favoring only one kind of communication style. The Post-It Note is a great democratizing force in business meetings – shut up and think, beware your extroverts may be uncomfortable with the silence!

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.


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