Meetings get a lot of bad press, and not without reason. If run ineffectively they can be time-wasters and an energy suck. But if done well, meetings are often the best way of getting team members together to move a project forward, or to brainstorm.

The problem is that meetings are often a passive activity, with attendees not engaging, checking their smartphones and wishing they were somewhere else. I’ve been wondering how to bring a bit of energy into the usual ‘sit down’.

One way to get things moving in your meetings, is well, to get people out of their chair. There’s been a lot of praise for standing meetings and more recently even walking meetings. Taking this a bit further, I’ve thought about how to run meetings that get people generating ideas, moving and interacting at the same time.

Of course, it depends on the nature of and need for the meeting, but as something that combines visual tools with interaction and encouraging discussion, I like the Light Table as featured on PSFK. The table allows users to gather around to view, mark up and annotate digital files, and collaborate with others virtually.  But unless you have the budget for this type of technology, most of us have to consider more, non-digital, alternatives!

I recently attended Alex Osterwalder’s two-day Business Model Generation Workshop & Masterclass during which he encouraged teams to stand around enlarged versions of the Business Model Canvas pinned to the wall. Using Stattys (a clever static version of sticky notes that can slide around on a surface), teams can easily play around with different business models, and the visual format makes it easier for them to quickly, and energetically, generate various ideas.

In fact, sticky notes or similar tools are great for getting people moving around and chatting. Some exercises I’ve designed in the past:

Brainstorming a project timeline: the team identifies what needs to be done to finish a project, writing one task per post-it, then work together to arrange the tasks into a timeline along a wall, identifying any dependencies or potential bottlenecks.

Understanding the customer: map out a process/sequence that a customer goes through in engaging with a product or service, or a ‘day in the life of…’, again writing one activity per post-it and then arranging them into a logical order.

Making a commitment:  after generating various project ideas, write each one on a large piece of paper and stick them around the room.  Each meeting attendee then moves around to each sheet and adds, on a post-it, their name and what they can individually contribute to making that idea happen.

You might start off by slipping an exercise like this into your next meeting to see how it works (you won’t want to run every meeting like this as it’s not always suitable). There might initially be a little resistance, and for that reason it can be very easy to slip back into the usual way of doing things. But once you get the exercise going, you (and your meeting attendees) will notice that these alternative formats can be much more productive.

Image: Freddy Snijder on Flickr