Meetings with Meaning

“Why doesn’t work happen at work?”

In his 2010 TED Talk, Jason Fried, founder of the software sensation 37Signals, spoke with despair about the scourge of workplace productivity, what he refers to as “M&Ms”. No, he wasn’t referring to people hyped-up on multi-coloured sweets. M&Ms is his warning code for “Managers and meetings”!

Who would have thought that in the age of hyper-speed digital communications, in the always-on, globally-connected business world, so many people would still not have mastered managing meetings with meaning? Many of my coaching clients still say that their real work doesn’t get done at work. It seems their breakthrough thinking, planning and getting agreement to decisions, happens outside of meetings. And yet it’s back-to-back meeting time that fills most of the core hours in their diary.

Which of the following is closest to your experience of workplace meetings?

A – Everyone is 100% engaged and keeps the meeting productive.

B – At least 70% of those assembled participate and make constructive contributions.

C – You just about manage to stay tuned-in for 50% of the time.

D – You’re there in body, but thinking about and doing other things.

E – Bored to tears and consumed by gnawing frustration.


If A or B apply to you, well done, you clearly work with colleagues who have a healthy approach to meetings! Meetings with purpose, participation, practical application and outputs. Commiserations if you rank C-E. It might help to reflect on these questions:

  • Why do I turn up to these meetings? Is it the best use of my energy and expertise to go along? What would really be the worst thing that could happen if I sent my apologies?
  • Do I go just because I feel I have to? If so, what assumptions do you need to challenge and with whom?
  • If you had the power to change the way the meetings are run, what would you recommend?
  • Is a meeting the most productive mechanism for getting things moving? Where and when does the really productive stuff actually happen and what can you do to capitalise on this?

Thinking with Your Hands

Recently I’ve been working with clients who want to re-invent how they lead meetings with their teams. Coaching has focused on completely re-thinking the purpose of workplace gatherings of all types. Most of all, we’ve looked at designing these activities with team members and project deliverables in mind.

When the director of a manufacturing business wanted to revise the business strategy, we designed a half day workshop full of creative thinking techniques using lots of practical resources. Despite some initial cynicism from those assembled, people soon discovered that they could articulate and refine their ideas far more powerfully by creating prototypes and pictures out of lego and junk. The output from this session connected people to the ideas, decisions and plans far more deeply than a traditional boardroom marathon could ever have achieved. The outputs and ideas live on in 3D models and photographs, not just dry words lost in a set of minutes.

If you’d like to discover more about creating meetings with meaning, sign up to our ‘Thinking with Your Hands’ workshop at the Return on Innovation Conference at the fabulous Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle in November. You’ll also be treated to an array of inspirational speakers and lots of other high action workshops. You need never endure boardroom boredom again!





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