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Think about how much time we spend in meetings.  Sure, getting people together to share ideas, stay aligned, and solve problems is an important part of achieving collective goals. But really, when was the last time you can say you were in a great meeting? 

In this post, I’ll share how I’ve personally used one of the positivity principles in my book to turn an unproductive meeting into a great meeting. 

One recurring meeting that I ran was regularly awful.  It was often unproductive and frankly, demoralizing.  Although we talked about many important issues we needed to address, we often didn’t get into the root of issues or enhance our plans to recover.  We usually ran out of time, often missing some of the critical issues and decisions. 

Frustrated by these dreaded meetings, I decided to try something different.  Even though we were constantly short on time, I decided to take 5 minutes at the start each meeting to set a positive mindset.  I thought I would try to use the positivity I had been learning about into practice and see if it would make a difference.

In the first attempt at this, I displayed a slide that had 12 attributes the team had defined to describe the culture we wanted in our organization.  I made a simple request to those in the room.  “Tell me how one person in the room exhibited one of these attributes in the last week.” 

Awkward!  This was a group of senior level executives that are focused on solving large problems and striving towards challenging goals.  Many were engineers like me and were not comfortable with this warm & fuzzy stuff.  Thankfully, I had prewired a couple people before the meeting and I called on one.  “Jen, Can you get us started?”

“Sure,” Jen said cheerfully.  “I participated in JP’s Innovation challenge meeting this week and I was amazed and inspired by the innovative ideas I saw.  JP, that forum you run to highlight and fund innovation across the organization is awesome.  Thank you for helping our culture become more innovative.”  

JP was struck by the compliment and thanked her.  I called on another participant in the room.  After three of these compliments, we had used up our 5 minutes and we switched to the next agenda item.

In those first few minutes, the mood in the room changed completely.  You could see people shift to a more positive posture, become more present in the room and intellectually engaged in the conversation.  As we moved into the next topics of challenges and issues, the room remained positive and we were more effective digging into the details of the challenges and improving our plans. 

I was amazed at the amazing difference this simple practice made in these meetings. Our positive mindset didn’t make us shy away from the issues; quite the opposite.  Participants weren’t as defensive, and were more willing to openly discuss problems and share their ideas and suggestions. 

Once in a positive mindset, we were better equipped to address the problems head on.  It’s one of the paradoxes of positivity – you don’t need to ignore problems to be positive; rather, you are better at solving problems if you are in a positive mindset. 

Going forward, we used many different techniques to kick off the meeting with something positive: 

  • Watch a short TED talk
  • Participants share what they wanted to get out of the meeting
  • Watch a short video of something funny
  • Participants take turns at “Tell me something good.”

A couple months into this exercise, I surveyed the participants in the meeting to see if they wanted to continue the practice.  Expecting many of the participants to opt out because it was awkward, I was surprised by the responses.  Of the 19 people that were in the room, 14 wanted to continue the practice and 5 wanted to stop it.  One who I expected to tell me to stop told me it was one of the most valuable parts of the meeting.  Another who I expected to be opposed said they had implemented the practice in their own staff meetings. 

This simple way to use positivity to boost productivity in the work place works at all levels in the organization.  You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your meetings. 

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

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