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Productive meeting: an oxymoron? blog picture

Productive meeting: an oxymoron?



Meetings are an essential part of working life. They often form the framework to our week and are the cornerstones to our days. So how do you balance getting work done with the myriads of meetings filling your diary?

Here are five techniques to help make your meetings more productive.


Meetings should be a chance to connect with people, an opportunity to maximise the potential from the different voices in the room.

It shouldn’t be. An oxymoron that is. Meetings should be a chance to connect with people, an opportunity to maximise the potential from the different voices in the room.

Led well, they can elicit new ideas and approaches. They are also a handy way to distribute leadership and trust amongst colleagues, and in a world where we’re increasingly huddled in front of a screen they encourage us to re-engage with others.

However, prevailing opinion might suggest that we see meetings as gaping wounds in our diaries stuffed with other people’s agendas. For all their potential, they can gobble up time more efficiently than a black hole.

And time’s not the only victim of meetings. Without meaning to, meetings can fall foul of dominant viewpoints and personalities; a convenient soapbox for the loudest to shout from.

So how do you avoid the black hole/soap box syndrome that so many meetings suffer from?

A lot of it is in the planning and careful deployment of the bits that wrap around the main point of the meeting and which, when executed well, help bring people on side and galvanise them to action.

What is essential before, during and after the meeting is to communicate in a compelling way why this meeting is important, and to encouraging people to see their place in it: in essence, to employ the power of narrative in bringing people to the room in mind and body.

Here we explore five techniques to help make your meetings more productive.


Recognising all the voices in the room

There’s no point in inviting people to a meeting if they don’t have an opportunity to contribute in some way. And without seeking people’s input you risk missing potentially interesting ideas or new ways to look at the challenge you are trying to unpick. However, it can be difficult to open up the conversation and encourage everyone, including those who are less inclined to speak, to contribute with confidence.

To recognise the voices in the room, and to start a meeting off on a positive footing, invite people to introduce themselves, and to consider this question:



Their strengths needn’t be skills-based, or dependant on their knowledge of the matter at hand. Rather, this question encourages people to take ownership of what only they can offer to make the meeting productive, and brings a level of authenticity to the contributions they make thereafter.


A new way to scenario-plan

Faced with deadlines and other pressing commitments, our default position when thinking about the future is one often based on the easiest, most straightforward (and likely) future reality. And yet meetings can be an excellent opportunity to play with out-of-the-box ideas about what it could look like to challenge the predictable status quo.

Here’s a 10-minute activity to generate new ideas for the future direction of a project, department or organisation. Ask each member of the group to think individually of a response to the following question:



Listen to each of the responses in turn, without passing judgement, until everyone has spoken. Note the range of ideas put forward, which are likely to include quantifiable measures of performance, imaginative visions and reflections of people’s values.

Next, ask everyone to think of what they would ask if they had a second question. After hearing what everyone says, it might be worth reflecting on the differences between the two rounds of responses.

This technique also encourages people to listen to one another, and evens the playing field between professional levels, skills and expertise.


Overcome perceived and real blockers

If your meetings are about getting from A to B on a particular project, it can be common to see the hurdles before the finishing line. Overcoming these perceived and real blockers is challenging, not only in practical terms but in maintaining the energy and motivation of the people tasked with seeing it through.

This technique comes tried and tested from the Invisible Grail team. Through a sequence of open questions, it will enable you to shed new light on a project and unlock new ways to approach your particular set of hurdles.


Facilitation technique


This technique is best used in pairs, and to be time efficient, ask people to come prepared with a metaphor.


Be open to feedback

Feedback can be tricky. It requires openness and trust on the part of both giver and receiver. Yet  feedback is essential to avoid becoming complacent; it challenges us to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zone and to acknowledge the views of others.

To make your meetings more productive, feedback can be used as an iterative process of refinement. It will allow you to make immediate changes from one meeting to the next, and to shift longer-term approaches where they are needed.

Start by giving everyone in the room a post-it, and ask them to write three sentences on it. Tell people that you’re going to give them the first word of each sentence which you’d like them to complete. What they write will be advice to you on how you run the meeting. The words are:



Ask people to stick their responses on the wall or door as they leave the room. Consider their responses – some you may have expected, others not, and of these some may be helpful. The next time you get together report back and, where you need to and it’s feasible, act on the feedback given.


Be brave, try fearless feedback

As Keith Grint and others have emphasised, questions which stimulate insight are key to a leader’s capability set. In the context of a meeting, feedback will help you evolve from one meeting to the next whilst nurturing a culture of openness.

Try using this question with people after your next meeting:



Each meeting will, of course, be different to the next. And the focus from one meeting to the next may also shift. These techniques can be used when needed, or as a longer-term process of refining the way meetings on a particular project or with your team are run. However you choose to use them, what is essential is to find ways to unlock people’s trust and respect in one another. By doing this, not only will your meetings become more productive, they won’t feel like black holes any more.


These techniques were created for, and shared through, our weekly Friday Gift and Tonics; short pieces of writing designed to spark a moment of creativity. As a team we commit to using these techniques at our own meetings to challenge our default approaches and create opportunities to improve how we work.

If you would like to sign up to our mailing list and receive a weekly Friday G&T click here. Or if you are already on our mailing list and don’t yet receive Friday G&T’s but would like to, please email Louise.


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