OPINION: Marketing Society - Foster creativity to get the most out of meetings

In most companies where I've consulted, having meetings has always been a source of irritation - "an excuse not to do any real work" being the typical complaint.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that they are a necessary evil. Information needs to be shared, issues need to be debated, views must be aired and decisions made. The problem is that we don't know how to hold meetings. We stop being creative - even in the creative industries.

Being creative in a meeting doesn't mean turning up wearing a comedy tie. Being creative is about developing a culture where creativity is ingrained into the organisation, so that holding a meeting becomes a natural part of the company's processes.

You might be forgiven for thinking this is impossible.

A typical response is: "Creative people are creative, I'm not." People shudder at the thought of being put on the spot and asked for an original idea.

However, given the right encouragement, environment and stimulation I've never seem anyone freeze during a creative ideas session. So trust me, creative meetings are no different; they are for everyone and for every occasion.

To have a creative meeting, you need to be in the right frame of mind and you need to be disciplined about how the meeting is run. It should be no more than 15 minutes. Everyone should be standing up - it's the only way to get people out of their comfort zone. Everyone involved has to understand what the issues are and what their role is. This discourages passivity - or conversely stops loud mouths taking over.

In an ideal world, there is one facilitator to run the meeting, one problem-owner, who owns the core issue to be resolved or debated, and two resourcers, whose expertise is recognised as a key to solving the problem or involving everyone in the meeting.

Here's my advice on how to do it: begin with a warm-up session - keep the atmosphere quick and fun. Once everyone is relaxed, define the issues of the meeting and allow no one more than a few minutes to reflect upon them.

Allow a maximum of two to three viewpoints on the subject. When facilitating a large meeting, break people up into groups to make them work harder to define the key points. Once you've got everyone back to the table, encourage them to bank their ideas rapidly.

Move around the table. Get them to write out their ideas on a whiteboard. Give them big marker pens and tiny Post-It notes, so they have to express their thoughts simply and concisely. Don't stop if you don't get a response. Speed and spontaneity are crucial.

If you are facilitating, be positive - encourage people to respond, but don't cajole and never judge someone's viewpoint or idea - let the scribe record it.

In essence, the creative meeting is about encouraging freedom and expression, but doing so in a controlled manner. You need to understand what you want to achieve from the meeting before you begin and have clearly understood roles and guidelines in order to make it worthwhile.

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