To have better meetings, move beyond information-sharing

Toss out your slides and make your meetings collaborative instead
Put down the PowerPoint and back away slowly.
Put down the PowerPoint and back away slowly.
Photo: Matej Kastelic (Shutterstock)
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

“I don’t think this meeting will take that long,” your teammate says. If you’ve ever heard this phrase, you can be pretty certain that two things are true:

  1. The meeting will take the full allotted time.
  2. The meeting will accomplish nothing.

This is a common experience. In fact, according to my team’s research, more than a third of us spend 20+ hours in terrible meetings every week. That’s a problem. What’s worse is many of us don’t know how to make our meetings better.

Instead of information-sharing, make your meetings collaborative 

The problem with meetings isn’t just the sheer number of them we have, but also the type of meeting we typically attend. When not facilitated with a pre-meditated purpose, meetings become nothing more than a forum to share information that could have been communicated in a more effective, asynchronous manner.

That’s not to say all hope is lost when it comes to meetings. Meetings can become transformative when they move out of the information-sharing, slide-wielding genre into the intentional, collaborative genre.

Collaborative meetings…

  1. Help create a team mentality. When you ask people to collaborate, individuals feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, which improves job satisfaction and staff retention.
  2. Build psychological safety. With collaboration, team members are comfortable speaking up and providing feedback.
  3. Result in a better outcome. When diverse viewpoints are shared freely, more inspired solutions rise to the top. In fact, a McKinsey study found that diversity of thought leads to a 35% increase in creativity.
  4. Save time. Getting more intentional makes for more efficient engagement.

4 ways to make your meetings more collaborative

I spend my days working with customers to improve the way their teams collaborate. Here are a few starting points I share with them to take their team meetings to the next level.

Spend time on your meeting agenda. Be intentional with your time, and with your meeting agenda. List agenda items as questions, not generic topics, and encourage participants to come prepared. This gives introverts a chance to process information outside of the pressure of a loud social setting. Enlist allies (like extroverted supervisors) to lead by example, and hold them accountable for making space for their remote and introverted counterparts to contribute.

Get people talking with a *purposeful* icebreaker. Just like you wouldn’t run a race without first warming up, don’t start pushing a team into deep work without first stretching its collaboration muscles. A purposeful icebreaker can kill any tension in the room before digging into the work and set up the rest of the discussion. That being said, it’s important to choose an icebreaker that serves a purpose suited to the meeting’s objective. For example:

  • Who was your first mentor, and what qualities made them a good (or lousy) one? The purpose: Reinforce the idea that relying on each other is a part of growth—suitable for projects or teams with lots of dependencies.
  • What’s your superhero name? The purpose: Practice packing a lot of info into a single, evocative word or phrase.
  • What will be the title of your autobiography? The purpose: Prepare for team activities like crafting a vision statement.

Free your meetings with liberating structures. Liberating Structures provide alternative structures for facilitating meetings and conversations, curated by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. One of my favorite structures to use to transition from an icebreaker to brainstorming is called 1-2-4-All. The sequence is: reflect on something (a question, a topic, an idea) for one minute individually in silence, then discuss it in pairs for two minutes, then in fours for four minutes, and then come together as a whole group and cherry-pick some highlights from each four to share with the entire group.

Never forget about the space you’re in. If I’m facilitating an in-person meeting, I’ll get to the room early to scope out the seating configuration. If the tables move, I always opt for a horseshoe formation so team members can look each other in the eye while collaborating. But what about in a hybrid or virtual setting? Experiment with a tool like welo that can create a customized workspace in which distributed team members can gather and collaborate.

Let your meeting happen

Now open your calendar and identify a meeting that could be more collaborative—I bet there are several popping out at you. Try one of these techniques and watch the magic of a more collaborative meeting unfold.

Mark Cruth is Atlassian’s resident Modern Work Expert. Focused on practice over theory, Mark spends his days coaching teams on new ways of working.