Three Easy Steps To Make the Dullest Business Meeting into an Engaged, Active, Effective Experience (Really!)

Before I became the first Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at my university (or at any university) in 1998, I took a number of management courses and workshops.  After all, my job was to do what had not been done before, to lead the creation of programs across the “silos” of the university with different accounting systems, bottom lines, management philosophies, educational missions, and cultures.  Learning how to bring people together across such differences for a common purpose, often being willing to reallocate funds from one purpose to a new collective one that did not immediately shine glory on their institution meant insuring that everyone knew that everyone was in this together, committed to everyone’s success.

The classroom practices I’ve evolved over the subsequent years are all rooted in this conviction.  I write about this all the time on HASTAC, a network I also co-founded and have directed (and now co-direct) since 2002, for the same reason.  We’re all in this together.

AND . . . it turns out, these active, engaged classroom methods also work the other way–to inform our business practices.  We have gone from very boring business meetings, two hours a week going through all the details of all the many activities and programs we orchestrate together, to active, engaged learning meetings.  Yes, business meetings!

Here’s what we do:

We have weekly meeting of Fellows and staff, 12 people in all, graduate students and administrators.  We do not have anything on the agenda.  (We used to have the dullest, most deadline, dreadful meetings, agenda maybe a page or two long).  Now we have an empty grid on a Google Doc and, laptops open, we populate that grid collectively.

The method will be familiar to anyone who reads my work. We beginn using “inventory” or “active learning” methods to “crowdsource” agendas. 

1-Literally, we begin each meeting with the index cards.  Eeryone writes down the three things they are most concerned that we talk about together—it might be the fellowship applications due for next year’s fellows, the next seminar we’re putting on, something for the newsletter, finding a new server host for our website, etc. 

2-We then go around and each person reads their three things and we collaboratively enter these into the Google Doc for the day’s agenda as they are read.  

3-If someone has said something we have on our cards, we acknowledge that quickly then read the new thing.  At the end, we have a full agenda, we see what everyone is concerned about, and we finish in an hour.

Results:  What one sees is that (a) even if one person is “responsible” for an event, all your colleagues are thinking about it too—they are with you and part of the process; (b) every meeting something comes up that everyone else forgot; (c ) when we then go through the agenda, everyone has had a chance to think about our priorities and everyone pays attention and contributes. 

Like the engaged classroom, the engaged meeting is about collectivity.  We don’t have to “ban” laptops from our classrooms OR our meetings if everyone has a stake–recognized and respected and solicited and appreciated–in the outcome.