Regular management meetings should be a great opportunity to bring bright brains together to explore the future of an organisation. But rather than something to look forward to, they’re seen as a necessary evil. People attend because they need to be ‘seen’ to be there, or they’re worried they’ll miss out on a key piece of information. Each status update drains the collective energy of the room, and you leave wondering if you’ll ever get the time back.

What if instead the meetings were inspiring, invigorating and something to look forward to? A refreshing break away from the day-to-day where you learn something new, take insights back to share with your team, or get expert advice on that problem you’ve been struggling with?

The solution to terrible meetings is not to simply get rid of them – companies cannot survive without meetings. It’s to make them better. In fact, meetings are a great opportunity to improve the culture of your organisation. A study at a financial regulatory consultancy showed they achieved amazing results after three months of changing the way they ran their meetings – 42% increase in team collaboration, 32% increase in psychological safety to speak up and express opinions, and 28% increase in team performance. Work-life balance increased by 30% to 92%! That’s after just three months.

Jeff Bezos knows all too well the importance of meetings in an organisation’s culture. He’s known for his quirky, yet effective, ways of making them productive. All of Amazon’s executive meetings start with silent reading time, to give attendees time to read through and make notes on prepared memos and most importantly, to think. There’s also the “The Wheel”, for big meetings, which is spun at the start to help decide which leaders will present, keeping everyone attentive and meetings efficient.

So there are opportunities to improve meetings, beyond the usual basic tips for creating a clear agenda, keeping to time, having a moderator etc. It doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul of your meetings, just small interventions to switch up the energy at various points. Here are some ideas:

Use the walls

Standing meetings have been shown to increase productivity, but even just asking people to get out of their seat for a short time can have an impact. Use tools and frameworks that can be pinned to the walls or sketched on a whiteboard or flipchart, as a focal point for people to gather around and inspire a productive discussion.

Provoke new insights and ideas by asking great questions

Edgar Schein believes that healthy organisations need to practice “humble inquiry” – “the fine art of…asking questions to which you do not know the answer”. Warren Berger promotes the connection between innovation and questioning. At the end of your usual status update, what open-ended questions can you ask to generate new insights from your colleagues?

Ask people share their expertise to inspire the group

Lightning talks are 5-minute, fast-paced presentations used at conferences and events to cover a range of topics in an energetic way. The short format requires the speaker to be focused and clear. For each meeting, you can select one or two colleagues to give a lightning talk on an area of opportunity or interest to the business.

Open the space

A clear and structured agenda makes the best use of people’s time, but can you allocate some time in the agenda to discuss topics that emerge more organically? This is not the same as “any other business” at the end, which can often lower the tone of a good meeting. Instead, facilitate it in a way similar to the start of an unconference – get people to brainstorm and suggest topics, and ask people to vote on what they want to discuss.

Silent brainstorming

A different take on Amazon’s silent starts, when asking for input or ideas during a meeting, ask people to spend a couple of minutes brainstorming silently before they share. In their research, Reid Hastie and Cass Sunstein found that group-think increased if a leader promotes a particular idea or there is early support for an idea. Asking people to think independently, before others can dominate the conversation can help to avoid this.

Management meetings are not going away, so rather than fight them, or even worse live with bad ones, take a look at how you can tweak them for better results.