In the age of Slack, Asana, and other tools for collaboration, in-person meetings are losing ground. It’s true that having a great meeting isn't easy, and too often we fall into dull routines. But it’s also true that real magic can happen when people are face-to-face in a room together. To get people to be fully present and spark creative ideas, try these meeting warmups.
Most people default to verbal/analytical mode, so getting people to use their hands and get involved with pen and paper can prove to be a very refreshing gear shift. As the name suggests, Sketch Your Neighbor requires everyone to draw the person next to them. Set a timer for a minute or two and let loose. For the majority of people who claim that they can't draw, this exercise involves a certain amount of vulnerability—and that's the point. If everyone is used to failing in front of each other, the group dynamic is going to be more open, generous, and positive.
When you're dealing with strangers, learning everyone's name can be a significant challenge. The improv legends at Second City use a game to get past this. Everyone stands in a circle and takes turns saying their name while making a gesture. Everyone else repeats the name, while copying the gesture. They go around the circle doing the same thing one more time, and then everyone has to do the whole thing from memory. The association of movement with the name is a shortcut to embedding it in long-term memory. That, plus that fact that everyone has made themselves look ridiculous, leads to an open and fun meeting.
Sitting hunched in a chair while someone drones on and on feels like going through a slow death. Getting people out of their chairs is a quick way to perk up energy levels and set the stage for collaboration. The Stretch is a very simple exercise: A facilitator asks everyone to stretch their arms up to the ceiling, tilt them to the left and the right, and then shake them out. It takes less than a minute, and allows the meeting leader to take control of the room and wakes people up.
One problem with meetings is that we aren't great at listening to each other. This is even more of a problem if people are glued to their phones and laptops. We cribbed this game from Second City, too. Everyone pairs up and has a conversation. The rule is that the first word of your sentence must be the same as the last word of the sentence your partner just said. This requires listening to their entire sentence before beginning to frame your reply. Sadly, for most of us, this is an unusual behavior.
One of the keys to a good creative meeting is to have everyone show up as their whole, human self, rather than their"work self." A quick way to get there to have everyone tell a quick personal story. For example, ask your colleagues to talk about a youthful hobby. If possible, connect the story topic to the purpose of the meeting. Talking about ways to motivate a team? Ask them to tell a story about the moment in their life when they felt most excited. The main benefit comes from having each person tell a story from the heart, which will bond everyone for the rest of the meeting.
If you're ready for an added level of risk, get people to do rhythmic movement in unison. This requires a charismatic (i.e. shameless) facilitator or a very willing group of participants—or, ideally, both. The facilitator takes the group through a set of dance moves, and then everyone performs them together to music. If you start a meeting like this, nothing that happens afterwards will faze anybody.
Illustrations by Steve Har.