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More meeting types, better meetings (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I conducted an innovation project with one of our multinational clients in Germany. During a conversation with my host in the run-up to the event, this senior executive with global responsibility for a business unit in finance confided that he spends far too much time in meetings, which at times make him feel exhausted yet wondering what he has actually done and achieved at the end of a business day.
Our conversation led me to a series of interesting questions that I want to pose to you: Are all your meetings run effectively? Do all your meetings essentially follow a similar procedure regardless of the topic? Do you really need to attend and participate in each meeting? What hard, tangible outputs or results come out of these meetings, and how much did you contribute to these results?

In today’s article and in the next, please allow me to share with you ten alternative meeting types that may help you make your meetings more focused, variable, effective and productive. We use many of these meeting types at my innovation company Thinkergy (as they are based on our X-IDEA Innovation Project Method with its five distinct stages Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation, and Action)), and others are adapted from the book Sticky Wisdom from another innovation company, ?WhatIf!

1. Briefing Meetings

The Briefing is an information-sharing meeting, where a senior executive or manager updates a team or business unit on a topic, and may also give related instructions. While questions are permitted at the end, essentially only one person does the talking, and any further conversation or discussion (one-on-one or in a small group) should be postponed until after the briefing. The goal is for the leader to bring everyone to the same level of knowledge about a situation or strategy, and about issues affecting the whole group. The main benefit of this meeting type is that a lot of information can be communicated to many people in a short period of time. A special form of this meeting type is a Townhall Meeting, where a C-level executive briefs a very large assembly of employees on new strategic initiatives or latest corporate developments.

Tip: A good time to schedule these briefing meetings is in the late afternoon before people go home, or you can combine it with an office lunch or team dinner where your colleagues can eat while you bring your team up-to-date.

2. Xploration Meetings

An Xploration Meeting usually involves a project team that wants to explore a topic at the beginning of a project. The aim is to create shared knowledge about the project, and also to identify knowledge gaps and perceptual blind spots. Xploration meetings produce a better understanding of the various facets of the project and the related challenges, lead to novel insights, and typically bring out a small range of initial ideas on how to tackle the project and related issues. Xploration Meetings are best done with a medium -sized project team (4-6 people; but you may go up to 10 for important projects). The meeting needs to be planned, prepared and conducted by the project team leader (and/or an outside facilitator) to ensure that everyone engages in focused Xploration work to better understand the project.

Tip: At Thinkergy, at the beginning of projects we try to hold at least two Xploration Meetings separated by an immersion phase of a week, that we use to close identified knowledge gaps by sourcing and reviewing new evidence.

3. Ideation Meetings

In Ideation Meetings, “anything goes” as 6-10 team members try to generate a pool of raw ideas related to a project challenge. These meetings require one person to act as facilitator, brief everyone on the challenge, set a time-limited idea quota, remind the group to follow the four ground rules of Ideation (1. No killing of ideas. 2. Go for quantity. 3. The wilder, the better. 4. Combine and improve on ideas), and introduce additional stimuli and ideation tools as needed to keep the ideas flowing for the duration of the meeting. In most cases, Ideation Meetings can be run as Brainstorming Sessions (ca. 30-90 minutes long, with an idea quota of 100-300 raw ideas). However, if your project challenge is important, go for a more comprehensive meeting where the participants use 8-12 creativity techniques to produce more raw ideas (ca. 800-1200) in 3-4 hours of time.
Holding special Ideation Meetings — ideally in an offsite venue or a special “Brainstorming Room” — avoids the problem seen in “normal” meetings, where a promising idea is killed right away, before its potential has time to be seen.

Tip: Bring in an outside innovation expert or creativity coach for important ideation efforts. Research studies and my own experience say that compared to undirected brainstorming, an experienced outside ideation facilitator can help you produce 4-10 times as many ideas with the selection of the right mix of creativity techniques.

4. Development Meetings

Development Meetings are also held by a project team, but are instead for designing and developing more mature idea concepts that address and resolve the challenge in a realistic, meaningful way. Separating ideation from development this way helps ensure that you have enough raw ideas to enable a broad range of possible solutions. Development Meetings are best done by a small team of 3-4 members, and are meant to produce realistic, meaningful concepts that are good enough to be prototyped.

Tip: Besides raw ideas, Development Meetings can also use other creative inputs. For example, when we produced video clips to help us win a runoff for a global innovation award, we held a development meeting with four creative artists to design and develop concepts based on storyboards we had previously created.

5. Evaluation Meetings

Project teams often limit themselves by generating and then right away evaluating and judging ideas in a single meeting. To avoid this trap, always separate Ideation & Development Meetings (that you hold to produce raw ideas and idea concepts) from Evaluation Meetings (that then weigh the pros and cons of your portfolio of idea concepts). Evaluation Meetings are typically 2-4 hours long — more if you do rapid prototyping. It’s often worthwhile to invite 2-3 others to an Evaluation Meeting, including pessimists whose insights into potential downfalls and areas for improvement can help sharpen everyone’s thinking. However, make sure that the group also contains enough pragmatists and optimists who want to make things happen, and who will fight for and bring forth meaningful change.

Tip: For more important projects, or when a larger portfolio of idea concepts or action alternatives needs to get evaluated, split your evaluation meeting into two separate rounds. First separate the wheat from the chaff in a rough evaluation round, then hold another meeting to carefully evaluate the remaining concepts and prototype the most promising ones.

Outlook: In the second and final part of this article, we will discuss five more formats to help your meetings become more productive and enjoyable.