How can managers run creative meetings? First, let’s ask how managers and meetings could stifle creativity? We see creativity-stifling techniques all the time, including:
- Leaders never ask for new ideas.
- Managers simply use their own ideas and don’t solicit ideas from others.
- They’re afraid to fail to the point where they don’t take chances.
- They recycle old ideas and merely add a little to them; think about all the tiny, incremental differences between different versions of a product.
- There’s a culture of “no, but” rather than “yes, and” with new ideas; often killing a great idea just as it starts to germinate.
In the end, the most visible place that leaders are called to gather ideas in the workplace is in meetings. Today’s managers spend hours per week in meetings, a number that has increased significantly over the decades. Meetings are where creativity is supposed to happen. However, most leaders never learn to run good meetings, be they staff meetings or brainstorming meetings. As a result, bad meetings produce bad results.
Ways to design creative meetings
One of the easiest, most effective ways to spur creativity in an organization is to make a few tweaks to how leaders run meetings. Truly, small changes here that can be learned quickly can pay big dividends for years in the life of a leader or organization. Although it’s better to really go through a training to learn creative meeting techniques, here are some easy suggestions:
- Break larger groups into smaller groups. It’s just hard to get good ideas from a bunch of people sitting around a big table with one person in the front of the room asking for ideas. You’ll have better luck with creative meetings if you start in groups of two or four and brainstorm in pods. That tends to produce more ideas, a greater diversity of ideas, and ultimately better ideas. It also puts more energy in the room and the organization because everyone is involved, active, and participating versus most brainstorming meetings where one person talks and everyone else listens.
- Use “brain writing” techniques to generate creative ideas. There are a variety of these but they tend to start with people writing ideas on a sheet of paper and passing those sheets of paper around the room. You get many more ideas much faster this way than having people talk through ideas individually. Plus, it tends to anonymize ideas and lets people build off other concepts quickly.
- Ask better prompt questions. Questions or assignments that are more provocative can produce more creative solutions. Rather than asking what new feature you can add to some cell phone, ask instead how you could develop a phone without a screen. Rather than asking how to implement the new version of a CRM package over the next year, ask how you could do it in a week. These questions might seem crazy, but pushing your employees to think about bigger issues may produce innovative, breakthrough solutions rather than uninspired, incremental ones.
- Set up your environment for success. Yes, you can be creative in a normal conference room, but such surroundings tend to be a mixed message when the charge is to “Go forth, innovate, be creative, and do new things!” Simply moving to your organization’s cafeteria or outside on the lawn can send a signal that creative meetings are welcome.
- Go to the site of the issue. If you’re trying to find a creative solution, don’t hole up in a corporate meeting room far away from the actual issue. Have your meeting at the site of the problem; maybe that’s in your server room or at your distribution facility. And consider inviting in the people – end-users, technicians, etc. – who are actually affected by the issue.
- Use purposeful icebreakers. Managers sometimes throw in icebreakers at the start of a meeting to add fun to what is often a low-energy affair. Icebreakers can serve a good purpose but people tend to pull questions out of the air such as “Your favorite food?” or “What you’re doing this summer?” That might be better than nothing but try seeding the atmosphere with a question and answers that speak to what you want your creativity to accomplish. For example, if you want to develop a great app, have people start the meeting by sharing what their favorite apps are. Knowing that one person likes pizza and one person likes fried chicken is interesting – but it doesn’t get the wheels turning in the same way that a relevant icebreaker can.