Your first meeting with your new team is significant in setting up the direction of the project, building relationships and sparking motivation. Here are some tips I use to keep the ideas flowing, and also ensure the session is practical and useful:
Know what you’re going to be addressing. This could be a few questions to explore or a more detailed brief. If you decide to send a briefing to all team members beforehand, don’t send it too far in advance but give people enough time to digest it. And also ask them not to share ideas until you meet – that way everyone can start off from equal footing when they get together for the first time.
Start off the session by allowing everyone to ‘braindump’ – their initial response to the brief, thoughts, suggestions, and further questions. And to ensure any priorities or ‘agendas’ are aired. If they don’t come out now, they’ll come out later, and much better to develop the project from everyone’s standpoints than having to adapt it, with difficulty, later on.
Have a plan. Break the time available into slots and decide what needs to be covered and how much time will be allocated. Let everyone know at the beginning that this is how the session will run, so they know how much time they have.
Remember what you’re there for. The beauty of creativity is it takes you in directions you hadn’t anticipated. The difficulty with creativity is that it takes you in directions you hadn’t anticipated! You need to find a good balance with encouraging the free flow of ideas but ensuring you don’t stray too far off within the time allocated. Clearly state the objectives of the session, and refer back to it regularly to keep everyone on track.
Have plenty of snacks available. Fruit. Biscuits. Chocolate. Sweets. Enough said.
If possible, have a facilitator that isn’t someone who is also involved in the ideas generation. A facilitator will be there to keep focus, keep an eye on time, take notes, synthesise information and keep things moving forward. This can be difficult for someone who is involved and passionate about the project, as their own ideas and opinions may take over.
Allocate a good chunk of time at the end of the session to allow everyone to reflect on what they can individually contribute next. Encourage everyone to take ownership of the tasks they have suggested and commit to taking something forward.
And bear in mind that motivation can often wane after the intensity of a focused session like this, so make sure everyone is clear of the next steps. Find ways of keeping the discussion going – perhaps by gathering responses to the meeting notes, sharing further ideas that pop up, or asking further questions (using an online space – even something simple like a Google Doc – can support this).
These techniques work well at the start of a project, but can equally used throughout when the team need to get together at key times.
Image: John Leonard Matthews on Flickr