Because they’re so frequent and time-consuming, meetings are a huge opportunity for improvement. A few smart changes can produce fewer sessions that get more done in less time.
1. Clarify why you’re meeting — or don’t have the meeting. It’s amazing how many meetings are held for no good reason. The biggest culprits are those “same day, same time” sessions that people carve into their calendars. Before every meeting, define the purpose and identify at least one intended outcome. If nothing comes to the surface, expect more nothing during the session.
2. Stay focused yet flexible. There are times in meetings when digressions are worthwhile and when certain issues should move up in priority. It’s a judgment call every time, but be ready and willing to divert from that carefully crafted agenda.
3. Redefine how you “lead” meetings. When six people are around a meeting table, it’s like having six supercomputers. In fact, people are better because they also have emotional intelligence. Instead of “leading” the meeting in traditional power-seat fashion, facilitate the session. Instead of making statements, ask questions. Instead of raising objections, ask more questions.
4. Be your own constructive coach. Are you talking too much? Are you holding back? Are you listening to understand, or are you simply gathering enough info to frame your counterpoint? What would you say about you if you were sitting in the meeting with yourself? If you can’t be objective or honest with these questions, ask a friend who attends the same meetings.
5. Shake up the meeting space. When meetings are held in the same place over and over, with the same people taking the same chairs around the same table, it’s no wonder we recycle our conversations and get the same stale results. So get moving. Take the meeting to a different room or an outdoor patio or a nearby restaurant or anywhere new. If you’re stuck with the room, ditch the table or vary who sits where.
6. Uncover ways to make the next meeting better. At the end of every meeting, take a minute to check how things went. Have people cite what went well during the session, what could’ve gone better, and what should be done differently the next time around. Commit to one or two improvements.
We know many of the factors that feed innovation: creativity, imagination, expertise, dialogue, hard work, and more. But who knew that we’d also benefit from occasional naps, frequent music, and full-on dancing?!
Thomas Edison enjoyed his work and did a lot of it. He sometimes logged more than 24 hours at a stretch. He often worked three days straight, followed by a couple days off.
But the Wizard of Menlo Park was hardly all work. He seems to have invented the power nap, and he used it often. He’d plop on the nearest horizontal surface, shut his eyes, turn off his ears, and get a quick mental recharge.
He also had a penchant for play. Edison had several of his mechanics install a pipe organ in the main work room. They’d crank it up to mark every big breakthrough. The room would fill with singing, spontaneous dancing, and a thick haze of cigar smoke.
There was even a Menlo Park band, and Edison sometimes served as the grand marshal, leading boisterous parades around equipment-covered tables.
Was all of this just fun and games, or did Edison have something else in mind?
Many of today’s workplaces are full of rules, layers, protocol, and bureaucracy. Edison minimized those things while maximizing the free flow of dialogue and building in plenty of informality and fun. The results speak for themselves: 1,093 patents.
I’m not saying you should cue up the music and grab your dancing shoes. And don’t put in a purchase request for a pipe organ. But I’ll bet there’s a lot you can do to lighten up and have some purposeful fun with co-workers, even if you’re not the person in charge.
Edison made it a priority. Maybe we should too.
You can’t use jumper cables, but there’s a lot you can do to energize your unengaged colleague. Here are ten steps for a sure start.
1. Adjust your own attitude. Instead of writing the person off, identify their one or two biggest strengths. Focus on these positives whenever the two of you are working together.
2. Tell them their strengths. That’s right, when you get an opportunity, pay them a constructive compliment that affirms what they’re good at. Don’t be surprised if they’re surprised, because most people go through life all too unaware of their greatest gifts.
3. Cite the importance of their role. When the time seems right, mention how their job contributes to a greater good. “John,” you might say, “if it weren’t for your great work on these applications, we’d never get these grants, and we’d never be able to serve as many people as we do.
4. Seek their input. When challenges arise, approach your listless colleague and ask them to weigh in with their thoughts. If their first few comments are meager, keep asking until they say something substantial.
5. Involve them in anything new. Got a new project or a new task force? How about a new training event or a new initiative to hear from customers? Get them in the mix, preferably in a role that taps their strengths or interests.
6. Give them more control. If you’re a manager and you find yourself frequently telling people what to do, stop being directive — and let them figure out their own approach. If several things need to get done right away, let them decide where to begin. If you can circulate information that will bring more people into the loop, start sharing.
7. Make a habit of it. All of the above actions work best when they’re done day after day. They’re like dental braces: You have to leave them on for a year or more before they work their change-management magic.
8. Have a one-on-one. If the apathy persists and you’re concerned about your co-worker, consider talking with them. Share your observations in a caring way, then ask if there’s anything you can do to make their work more engaging.
9. Know when to fold up. Some people seem hardwired for apathy. If your best long-term efforts with a colleague fail to generate a spark, direct your energy elsewhere. Just make sure you give it enough time.
10. Watch yourself. Are there days when your own attitude gets taken over by apathy? It happens to all of us at least some of the time, but know when it does and keep it from becoming a habit. Behavior is contagious, so follow that age-old advice and be the change you wish to see in your workplace.
One day I did the unthinkable: After playing piano for 25 years, I packed up my sheet music and stuck the box under the basement steps.
I wasn’t quitting piano. Just the opposite. I wanted to learn how to play without the help of notes on a printed page.
My first forays into “playing by ear” sounded more like “playing by fist.” I made noise rather than music. Even simple tunes proved to be difficult without sheet music.
This went on for three frustrating weeks, but then it happened: I hit the steep part of the learning curve. My fingers woke up. They began to find the tunes.
It’s more than a decade later, and my sheet music is still boxed away. I play most songs by ear, and I can get into a zone in which I make up my own songs spontaneously. It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it keeps me busy at parties.
Best of all, my relationship with the piano is entirely different. So are the results. Back when I needed the printed script, I was reading notes, hitting keys, and stringing sounds together. Now I’m fully making music. It used to be mechanical. Now it’s emotional. It used to be labor. Now it’s a passion.
It reminds me of what goes on in the workplace. Like piano players who stick with their sheet music, many people follow the procedures, the written instructions, “the way it’s done.” They hit the keys. They read the notes. They go about their jobs in a mostly mechanical fashion. They use their hands, but not their hearts or minds. They produce, but without passion.
Perhaps there’s an alternative.
What if we boxed up our prescribed ways of doing things? What if we took “the way it’s done” and stuck it under the basement steps? What if we proceeded to improvise, approaching old routines with a new sense of freedom, choice, and possibility?
It’s true that some jobs involve strict protocols: emergency services, industrial settings, hazardous facilities, and other places where health, safety, and security are the leading concern. Procedures need to be followed.
But most jobs give people more leeway.
If yours does, take it and make the most of it. There might be some noise and frustration at first. But if you stick with it, the result will be music to your ears — and to the ears of the people you serve.
Some people seem wired for optimism, but most of us have to work at it. Here are seven ways to be realistically positive no matter what comes your way:
1. Appreciate and activate your strengths. You have real skills, rich life experiences, and a reservoir of good intention. Put it to work every day.
2. Opt for a partial solution when perfect isn’t possible. It’s always better to make some progress than to endure life as a chronically frustrated perfectionist.
3. Imagine success before it unfolds. Follow the lead of successful athletes. Before you take on a challenging situation, picture yourself dealing with it in a winning way.
4. Act yourself into a new way of thinking. It sounds a bit backward, but it works. Pretend to be positive, carry yourself with confidence, communicate an upbeat message — and those behaviors will start shaping your attitude.
5. Talk about what’s going right. Even in the most dysfunctional environments, good things happen. Start spotting those success stories, and make them the focus of your conversations.
6. Put problems in perspective. Too much thinking can drag us down, especially when we generalize (“I’m no good with numbers”), catastrophize (“If I don’t make this next sale, I’m going to lose my job”), or personalize (“It was all my fault”). Learn to recognize these distorted interpretations, and replace them with a view of the situation that’s scaled down to fit reality.
7. Do what you can instead of dwelling on what you can’t. There’s so much to be concerned about these days. Accept what you can’t change, but work like heck in those many situations where you can make a difference.