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Design thinking meeting agenda & training

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  • Post published:July 27, 2020
  • Post category:Blog

In our training meeting for Washington DC’s Design Thinking community, we did a number of activities that straddled how we:

  1. improve meetings
  2. better connect with our peers in an online environment
  3. do all of this in the context of human centered, design thinking principles

Our design thinking workshop agenda started with a number of ways to engage an online webinar audience — but also potentially our own colleagues and co-workers in a business meeting. One thing we came back to over and over again is that meetings — whether they are in a conference room or online —  do not have to just be one-way. On one hand, that means that it shouldn’t just be the boss or a manager talking to a group of people. One the other hand, it means that effective online meetings aren’t just an audience of people staring at a screen while one person talks to a camera.

Design thinking meeting agenda: online meeting introductions

We used a number of engagement techniques in the design thinking workshop, that might otherwise be categorized in an icebreaker bucket. We made sure everyone in the room introduced him- or herself — and with enough depth for that introduction to be meaningful and provide actionable context to other attendees. Often, introductions end up being too short and almost meaningless; someone gives us a name and maybe a title and we’re supposed to understand what this person actually does and also feel like we have some way to build rapport with him or her.

Below are a few examples of actual introductions that people chatted in during our design thinking workshop on meetings. Consider what would usually happen if we asked people to do introductions. The chances are we’d get pretty minimal details. In this case, I asked people a number of questions that they could choose to answer. However, I also wanted people to put what they do in the context of creating something, making something or helping someone. In a group of design thinking professionals, it’s not very helpful if everyone introduces him- or herself and then simply says, “I’m a designer.”

My name is ____________. I have a strong background in marketing and love getting people excited about a brand or a cause. Right now, I create websites as a freelancer and I have worked largely with the outdoor industry and non-profits. What I love about the work is unraveling a mess and making something more simple, pleasing, and functional. I came to this meetup because I hold a lot of discovery meetings with clients and I want to make them more engaging and impactful.

I am _______. I’m a 30 year interior designer of commercial spaces, then pivoted to design thinking and consulting. I am a perennial maximizer; so if you can kill two birds with one stone, three is better. I enjoy helping people grow their business or career through connections.

My name is ________ and I work for ______, a small consulting firm focused primarily on project management in the federal space, but my background is comms, change management, org design, human capital, and policy. I help trains run on time in a collaborative, structured, grammatically correct way (I edit a lot of team deliverables). 

Part of the secret of getting higher quality meeting introductions is to simply ask for them to be more detailed. Another aspect of it is to give people the time and the space to reflect on what they say and how they want to represent themselves. An advantage of online meetings is that we can all introduce ourselves at the same time via text, whereas that would seem weird if we were all in the same room. It’s much faster for people to skim through a lot of text than to listen to lots of people talking through an introduction.

We also used a “chat storm” instead of a typical texting style chat. This all-at-once format tends to elicit more detailed replies from an audience. It’s a really easy tweak when doing introductions.

We had a select few people introduce themselves to the whole design thinking group by coming off mute. While you could consume an entire meeting with 1-minute spoken introductions, just doing a couple makes the room seem more cohesive and serves to bond attendees.

Design thinking meeting agenda: including online meeting breaks

Because this was a relatively long session, at more than 2 hours, we took two breaks. Those breaks were spaced about 45 minutes apart. It’s difficult for people just to sit in a seat and remain engaged. That’s doubly true if it means not interacting much with other people and just staring at a screen. During the breaks, I prompted people to write down goals, find objects to share, or look outside and take a note of their environment. It’s important that people maintain a connection to the real world and real things instead of just staring at a screen for the entirety of a meeting.

It’s for that reason that I also like having people use actual paper and a pen to take notes and set goals during our design thinking workshop on meetings. Yes, we could do everything via screen sharing and by typing, but it’s nice to get people to interact with something they can touch and feel rather than one more thing on the screen.

A design thinking approach to innovation

In the second part of the meeting training, we did some rapid idea generation in the context of a divergent and convergent design thinking methodology. This is where we might see a design thinking approach to innovation. We ended up doing an online meeting adaptation of Think-Pair-Share (another name for which that was mentioned was Solo-Share-Synergy). This technique builds on the power of individuals to simultaneously think of solutions at the same time, and then come together in small groups to share those ideas, potentially think of new ideas, and then distill down those ideas to the ones that are the best. In our design thinking workshop agenda, we tackled the real problem confronting the group: How to maintain a sense of community (with potentially more than 5000 members) during Covid?

Inevitably, during this kind of exercise, we first generated dozens, if not hundreds, of divergent ideas in a minute or so. Then through discussion and prioritization, we whittled those ideas down to perhaps the best dozen. That then provides the foundation for a more robust conversation about what our options are and what we can do.  One of the biggest complaints that people have about meetings is that they never result in action. Often we get so stuck in generating ideas that we never actually get to a place where we can winnow down those ideas to the ones we really care about and then outline a plan to accomplish them.

Of course, this was just a quick demo and would look different if it was a client for which I was facilitating or if it was a real company doing work on a new product using these techniques.  Here are a few of the more popular ideas that the groups came up with in only a couple minutes:

  • community impact project where members interface with local communities in need to make a tangible impact
  • create snippets of a video that then is compiled together so we are separate but together
  • geocaching – meeting in person and painting DTDC rocks that we hide around an area for the rocks to be found and then moved to a new place
  • hack day/ design challenge geared towards non profit or community org
  • hybrid events where part is in an outdoor or open space for those who can attend and virtual for everyone who can’t
  • online networking event
  • picnic where we bring our own food
  • roadside clean up
  • several different versions of the same meeting during the week for people to have smaller groups participating in the event
  • speed networking where groups of 2-3 people chat for 15 minutes and then regroup, wash, rinse, repeat
  • time-spanned design challenge that runs over a 7-10 period
  • walk and talk and captured with go-pro

Because this was a fast workshop, we prioritized doing the activity and deprioritized the discussion that might usually follow that part of design thinking meeting agenda. As a result, for many of the activities, we relied on the teams to simultaneously use the chat feature to type in their ideas and allow everyone else to quickly read through them. An alternative, of course, is to invite teams to pitch their ideas and then perhaps do another round of iteration on those ideas before voting or forming some sort of consensus over which ideas to pursue.

After the second break, we did a fast and furious round of small group consulting. This is a really excellent way for people to get valuable input and fresh insights on their own challenges, but also serves to build rapport and connection within a group. This is especially valuable for groups that have something in common but where not everyone works on the same team or on the same project. We typically see this in associations, community organizations, or at most conferences.

Design thinking meeting agenda: closing

At the end, rather than just close up shop and have everyone run off, we took a few important moments to reflect on what we we had taken from the session island shared that. Then we closed with energy and purpose, something that is often missing in both small meetings and big conferences.

Overall, attendees could easily apply the lessons the next day, particularly in the context of doing work influenced by design thinking principles. And, as a repeated theme that I come back to quite often: I always hope that attendees feel like they truly participated, their input was valued, and they got to build real connections with other people.