How to Spot a Toxic Meeting That Kills The Creative Process

By Ange Fonce

"If you had to identify in one word the reason the human race will never
achieve its full potential that word would be 'meetings."
~ Dave Barry

There is no getting around it. 

If you are doing anything in right in your professional career you will have to go to a few meetings... you may even have to call a few meetings yourself... you may EVEN have to be the one who runs the show. 

I say this because I will be doing exactly that... running a meeting for a medium sized company and it is going to last 4 days and there are about 25 people coming. 

What will I say to cover all that time?

Well if all goes well not much... if I am doing to much it will not really be my show at all and it also will not go according to plan  either... in fact the agenda is not what you would expect from a meeting this long or large at all... it is in fact almost wide open.

See I do not like meetings any more than the next non sadomasochist for all the reasons you would imagine.

How To Spot A Toxic Meeting

I am sure you know the telltale signs... endless charts and useless bullet points an info tsunami that is impossible to absorb... lingo galore and ideas that are born on the whiteboard only to die there after the meeting ends... you will have seen it all before. 

One solution many adopt is the efficiency approach... 

Set a time limit... state your purpose and sum up the action points... it is all about writing the agenda and sticking to it like a ruler wielding grade school nun... while not bad that kind of meeting can kill or cripple the kind of accidental chaos you often need for something like coming up with creative company development project ideas... another common solution is to throw as many people into the meeting room as a kind of safety net... 

"The more people we have got in the room." 

Goes the thinking... 

"The more chance will have to come up with something." 

Here is the problem with that... lots of people does not mean more lots of energy often it means less the non contributors become dead weight.

My meeting is large by necessity... it is a company wide training session for high level managers and 4 day retreat I have been asked to put on and while they are there I intend to get them either to work individually or in small groups... it is in these smaller groups that I am certain we will do the best work of the week and at the end of the first two days I will bring them together for a group meeting... where every one can present their ideas and the best ones I will get people to move forward on.

I want these men thinking CREATIVELY and outside of their usual boxes and this is the key...

A Better Meeting Formula

I have come to learn that at least for idea driven creatives the best way to use meetings when you have to use them is actually very simple to implement. 

And it also happens to be echoed in a book by Ken Segall who regularly collaborates with the folks over at Apple Inc called Insanely Simple The Obsession That Drives Apples Success

Yes I am referencing Apple in this and they have got a track record at doing this right have they not? 

Says Segall the best meetings as in the kind that generated great ideas that got done after the meetings ended... had two simple rules. 

First they were small. 

In a book excerpt that showed up on Segall tells the story of a meeting where Steve Jobs walks in to a meeting room and starts talking... only to stop and jab a finger at one of the attendees. 

"Who are you?" 

He said. 

The attendee named Lorrie starts explaining that she is working on the marketing for some of the products that might come up and Jobs says to her... 

"Thanks and I do not think we need you here." 

So Lorrie has to get up and leave. 

Small Can Be BIG!

Whether you are meeting with a new client or an ongoing one try to do the same if you can... that is think small and I have some precise ideas on how small.. .like for instance I think three is ideal at most five and if you have got an especially passionate and knowledgeable client you might even get away with a one on one meeting to start... do not ask me why... yet I think an odd number of attendees are better than evens to keep the conversation going. 

It just seems to be a better dynamic of those the most important person to invite is what I call a product champion that is the person who is most passionate in the value of whatever you are trying to sell... he or she might even be the person that created it or works on perfecting it on a daily basis.

Next you also want to have some kind of rubber meets the road person... this is the one who will make sure the ideas happen after the meeting ends... preferably this is someone with a financial stake in the outcome too... after that if you want more people they would better be talkers... question askers and idea challengers

The man who just sits there is rarely an asset unless he is the kind that will kick in at the end with a brilliant insight and you cannot make that man or anybody else be brilliant... nor can you order him to participate... you can only make sure you invite the right people and only those people in the first place.

Here is how Segall puts it... 

"When you push for small groups of smart people everybody wins... the company gets better thinking... the group feels better appreciated and is eager to take on more work... this type of organization actually fuels productivity project to project."

The second rule says Segall is to aim to keep the agenda simple and NOT formal and organized... far better he says is an informal agenda... a method I personally love using and excel at being the facilitator... the observer... the enabler for others to pursue their creative thoughts and ideas and push things along... that flies in the face of what every cubicle loving drone or cutthroat no nonsense CEO seems to embrace. 

Time they will tell you is money and nobody has time to sit around just talking and here is the thing there can be magic in the randomness.

Yes go in knowing what you want to cover and do not be brutal about squelching any other tangents the key to making the chaos productive is not a strict agenda it is in being more rigorous about that first step instead... that is make sure the chatter produces by rigidly inviting only the right and passionately interested participants.

That said if a meeting is clearly going nowhere do not be afraid to cut it short and if everybody at the table is asleep you are better off coming back to the problem at a different time and do not be fooled by efficient meetings that measure success by how many ideas they produce as developing one or two good ideas with enough footing to get off the ground is far better than cranking out piles of mediocre ideas that will never go farther than the conference table.

Ye it requires stamina for some to stay on one topic for a full meeting and many are not up to it... yet in the long run of a working relationship you will actually solve more problems AND see the solutions realized more often if you tackle one challenge at a time and tackle it well as muti tasking just leaves a lots of things undone and incomplete... even Creativity can be Highly Focused!

One last thought...

When used badly meetings end up being the place where people do more talking about the real work that needs doing than actually doing anything and when used well meetings do not have to be a drag on your career.... they can be the tool that energizes your creative process more than throttling or taming it. 

If you are sitting down in small groups where no participants can hide behind a notebook or free doughnut... where you can feed off the passion they bring and you can get up from the table with one or two ideas you cannot wait to test in the real world... then you will know you have done it right.

One more last last thought... 

Many use meetings to find creative consensus and that is also a mistake as ideas formed by committee are rarely worthwhile. 

You are better getting up with a disagreement that will drive a defensive brainstorm than you are getting up with some watered down concept that nobody quite loves

Have you any thoughts or comments you would like to share with me on what I have written?

I would love to hear from you.

Thank you and may you enjoy a Loving... Prosperous and Dynamic day!

Yours Sincerely

Dynamic Lifer... The Tribe of Dynamic Lifers

1... A person with a penchant for Science... creativity... books... writing... communication... fitness... women... sexing... sexuality... human relationships... psychology... physiology and any other area involving heavy use of the Intellect.

2... A bright person and glamorously Intelligent!

3... Ange is an Author... Speaker and Dynamic Peak Performance Personal Development Consultant... and Humanistic Counselling Psychologist... Sexologist and Multipreneur... who works with those men and women who desire to personally develop themselves and their relationships to become Dynamic Lifers... creators of their own life... relationships and wealth! 

4... If you are Happy and you Know it... you are becoming a Dynamic Lifer!

To Speak to Ange and arrange a consultation for what you would like help with CLICK HERE

"Transformation happens when people fall in love with a different version of themselves and their future!"

Join us today and become one of The Tribe... a DYNAMIC Lifer and if you want to share with a friend a writing... please go ahead and let them know they can receive their own writings via e mail by directly joining The Tribe of Dynamic Lifers...I am sure they will appreciate your consideration of them.