Turn Meetings into Engaging Group Experiences

Want to hold more collaborative, outcome-focused meetings? Start by tossing out the agenda and presentation. Ask questions instead.

You need to set up a team meeting, so you book the conference room, draft the agenda, and create your presentation.

You’re all set—for another meeting that is likely to focus on getting through the agenda rather achieving worthwhile group outcomes. But by discarding some of the hallmarks of meeting organization, you can turn routine meetings into collaborative, productive group experiences.

Discard the agenda and presentation. Encourage engagement through inquiry instead.

Standard meetings are often measured by how many agenda items are crossed off, or how many slides you get through, rather than by the quality of participation, decisions, or next steps that emerge. A set agenda can detract from important, but perhaps unpopular, topics being addressed. In organization cultures that place high value on expertise and deliverables, a prepared presentation bounds the conversation and can limit the thinking that goes into the discussion. Important topics can get shut down before they are meaningfully explored or worse, they get deferred to another meeting.

So toss the agenda and the presentation and start the meeting with engaging, open-ended questions, often referred to as “inquiry.” Invite participants to fill the meeting content with questions such as:

  1. What question are you walking in with today?
  2. What questions might we explore together?
  3. What decision might we make together?
  4. How might we explore the issue of…
  5. How might we generate ideas for…
  6. How might we best use this time together?

If you’re a leader, start with opened-ended questions and then genuinely, consistently allow participants to influence what happens next. Leading by authentic inquiry helps the group to find its own meaning and action in the work; it also models and sustains the asking behavior and the curiosity mindset you may be seeking in your organization.

Freeing the discussion space with open-ended questions, you may find yourself in the wide, uncharted territory of the unexpected. There may need to be some designing and re-designing of group experiences on the fly. Should you become unsure where the group ought to go next, just ask them: “Turn to a partner and share what you think is the best thing we could do next.”

Consider your role as meeting instigator to be one of creating an experience, with the content and outcomes of the session belonging to all participants.

We’d love to hear about your own experiments turning meetings into engaging group experiences. Feel free to tell us what happened next.

This is a synopsis of our article “Design + Organization Development: Three Steps on the Bridge to the Other Side” published by the Design Management Institute in their Fall 2015 “dmi:Review” To receive a copy of the full article, with more guidance on using inquiry for effective meetings, visit DMI’s publisher Wiley-Blackwellwww.wiley.com or contact us.