Meetings are an important part of teamwork, especially now, as we spend much less time on social interactions. But if planned and coordinated poorly, meetings can be inefficient and time-consuming. Some participants might end up feeling like they have lost hours of their working day without reaching a solution.
The fact that some meetings are unnecessary has become a running joke in the corporate world. “This could’ve been an email” memes and gag gifts illustrate how we all feel about endless discussions that drift away from the topic at hand. But let’s not forget that meetings are great for bringing everyone up to speed, solving issues, brainstorming, and coming up with new ideas.
Applying principles of design thinking to your meetings can make them more efficient, agile, and relevant. Design thinking is a collaborative, non-linear methodology for creative problem-solving. With a mindset focused on curiosity, growth, inclusivity, and action, this approach can help us plan better, more productive meetings.
Let’s take a look at the steps of the design thinking process from which we draw inspiration.
Stages and principles of design thinking:
Empathize: Design thinking is user-centric. We need to approach the problem through the eyes of the client to gather relevant information.
Define: Design thinking is relevant. The problem must be defined concisely and through the client’s perspective. With a solid understanding of the issue, you can begin to find the solution.
Ideate: Design thinking is collaborative. Through ideation and brainstorming, you can look at the problem from different angles and use creativity to generate valuable ideas.
Prototype: Design thinking is iterative. Before a solution is developed fully, a smaller scale prototype can help you understand if it’s the right fix, and if it’s feasible on a larger scale.
Test: Design thinking is non-linear. Every solution must be tested through various methods to ensure that it works. If something still needs work, go back to a previous stage.
Turn Your Meeting Into A Workshop
The first thing we recommend we mean is to turn the meetings into a collaborative, interactive process. When we participate in a standard meeting, people can tend to lose their focus. In fact, according to an HBR article, over 90% of employees questioned have admitted to daydreaming during a meeting. Moreover, not everyone invited is relevant to the process, especially when they were invited as a courtesy.
Open discussions can lead to people circling around the same idea or changing the subject altogether. Sometimes employees fail to participate, they are hesitant to speak up, or just don’t get the time to make their point. Long presentations are often hard to follow and they are much less productive than an interactive experience. This is why structuring your meeting as a workshop can be beneficial for the team.
A well-structured meeting requires preparation. To use design thinking in the planning process means to think of the colleagues involved in the meeting, as well as the end customer who benefits from the end goal. Here are some ideas on how to prepare your workshop ahead so that everyone can have a chance to participate and find solutions together.
How to prepare for a meeting:
Prepare the people. Make sure to invite only colleagues who are involved in the process. For other people, the meeting might as well be an email. Of course, this doesn’t mean to exclude employees who have explicitly asked to assist or people who can learn by participating. You might also consider inviting specialists from other departments who can share their own expertise when relevant.
Prepare the room. Stuffy meeting rooms can dull productivity. Think of a friendly space that will encourage employee engagement and boost creativity. Book a new space or rearrange the existing rooms to be more suitable for collaborative activities. Bring supplies, drinks, and light snacks to ensure that participants have everything they need.
Prepare topics and activities. Research the topic beforehand to help you spread the information more efficiently. Knowing the information will guide you in the right direction to find the missing pieces. Write down designated steps and activities that will lead you and your teammates to a conclusion. These activities can be related to mean learning, brainstorming, product and service development, or all of them.
Prepare the discussions. Appoint one or more people who can act as moderators to make sure that everyone stays on point. This facilitator’s job (which can be fulfilled by you as well) will be to keep an overview of the conversation and remind everyone what was discussed so far.
Ask The Right Questions And Use Roleplay
Design thinking focuses on the human experience. The first two stages, empathize and define, are all about gathering information by seeing things through someone else’s point of view. We can take inspiration from human-centered design and practice empathy.
And ask yourself: What are the needs of your teammates? What about other people who might be directly or indirectly impacted by this meeting, such as colleagues from other departments or customers?
Challenge other participants to practice empathy themselves by using roleplay as one of the collaborative activities. Participants can take turns in “playing the customer” and answering everyone else’s questions. People can describe how they feel and if the solution found by the team was satisfactory.
Roleplaying is a great intellectual exercise to help you understand the needs and feelings of someone else. Through roleplay, you can grow your empathy and reach a better understanding of the issue. The exercise doesn’t have to be extravagant or theatrical. The goal is to collectively channel your creativity in the right direction so you can accurately define the problem.
This will set your team up for the next process of creative problem-solving: finding ideas.
Get Creative And Ideate
When it comes to brainstorming, things can get chaotic. Out of excitement, people can talk over each other and engage in groupthink, which takes time out of actual problem-solving and leads to unwanted outcomes. More often than not, introverts and junior employees will not speak up, while energetic extroverts get louder with their ideas.
Harness the enthusiasm of a brainstorming session to increase productivity by incorporating ideation in your meetings:
- Assign a specific timeframe for ideation. The time should be short enough so the meeting doesn’t drag out, but long enough so that participants can come up with multiple ideas.
- Ideate together, but separately. Have everyone write down their ideas before discussing them out loud. That way, the less outspoken team members can express their ideas, as well as their more social colleagues.
- Use a soundtrack that boosts creativity.
- Have a “creative box”. Prepare a kit of fun and useful supplies to help the brainstorming process and make the meeting more enjoyable.
Objects for the creative box:
Scientifically, our visual memory is stronger than our auditory memory. We remember information much better when followed by visual cues. Think of a meeting where there was an overflow of information. Can you still remember details from it? Did you have to jot down important details to make sure you remember them? And if you did write down ideas, how accurate were they compared to the original source?
The best way to make sure you and your team members are on the same page is to visualize ideas together. Your basic “show, don’t tell.” There are three main reasons to use visual representation in your meeting:
- To convey ideas clearly
- To keep track of ideas discussed during the meeting
- To make a prototype of the final solution
Convey Your Ideas Clearly
It’s crucial for productivity that everyone understands the purpose of a meeting and the end goal. At the beginning of a meeting, we often lose valuable time explaining our thoughts and getting everyone up to speed. Since all of our backgrounds are different, what seems logical for a person, could take longer to comprehend for another.
To improve this sharing process, pair your presentation with visual support. Create a mood board, find products similar to your own, bring sketches, films, or anything else that will help you get people in the right mindset.
Keep Track Of Ideas
During a meeting, multiple ideas are thrown around, and some of the good ones can get lost, even when the ideation process is well-structured. Which is not a bad thing. An overflow of ideas shows us that people are engaged in the process and their creativity has been put to action. Fast connections are made, leading to alternative solutions and spin-offs. You might even find yourselves solving another problem altogether.
Use a visually friendly outline of the discussions to keep track of the main train of thought. Have a board where you can add rogue ideas that might be valuable for future meetings.
Make A Prototype
Put together a minimalist prototype of the best ideas that your team has come up with to try them out. We are not talking about an actual prototype of the product or service you are developing. Instead, build a mock-up version to help you test your solution before making a decision.
Leave With Solutions
After a fruitful encounter with your colleagues, it’s important to keep the momentum going, especially after a virtual meeting, when everyone returns to their separate space, both mentally and physically.
A clear solution can turn into actionable results, but sometimes meetings end without a resolution. To avoid leaving things unfinished, have everyone vote on their favorite idea right then and there. If the topic requires mulling over, set up a deadline for everyone involved. Follow through in the shortest time possible so that you can move on to the next steps.