Run a Collaborative Meeting Without Bloodshed in 7 Steps

I love people.

I like meeting with people.

I hate meetings.

Let me rephrase that.  I don’t hate meetings — just the unproductive ones that waste everyone’s time… and by everyone’s time, I mean my time.


“Christmas may not be important to some people, but it is very important to the rest of us!”

There are all sorts of meetings — department meetings, inter-departmental meetings, staff-wide meetings, weekly updates with supervisors meetings, not to mention all the meetings that happen outside of the staff. I love what Patrick Lencioni says in his book Death by Meeting.


He goes on to say that there is no…

“…substitute for a good meeting — A dynamic, passionate, and focused engagement — when it comes to extracting the collective wisdom of the team.” 

Being a creative, my favorite style of meetings are collaborative in nature. Brainstorming can be fun and productive if done well! I do realize that most meetings are not geared like this, being that the majority of meetings are centered around updates, information, protocol, and so forth. This post is geared for those collaborative style meetings where new products are dreamt up, crisis is averted, creative missions or serving opportunities take shape, etc.

True collaboration is a pipe dream in most meetings but can be a reality if the team commits to working on it. Ideas abound in collaborative meetings. Some ideas are really great, and some just have bravado. The first, or loudest, people to speak are necessary to get the type of meeting I have in mind going but their contributions are not always the best ideas. Below are a few ideas I’ve put together over the years of what a productive meeting can look like.

  1. Come Ready.

    By this, I mean do your homework and provide hospitality. You can tell when someone comes to a meeting unprepared — shuffling through emails to get the latest update, running back and forth to their office to get something, shooting from the hip, etc. It’s wise to spend at least the amount of time your meeting will take, in actual preparation for it. If your meeting will be an hour long, your prep needs to be an hour or longer. It’s a lot of work but this is the price of productivity. On top of that, most people don’t spend that kind of time getting ready so the competition is low.

    More time and thought into the pre-meeting = clarity in the meeting  — at least on your end.

    On hospitality — Let’s just admit that we’re more open to sharing with a cookie in one hand and a beverage in the other. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

  2. Pray together / Play together.

    Praying might not go well at your meeting but if you work in a Christian environment like myself, inviting the ultimate Creative, God Himself, to the meeting is non-negotiable.  It also helps to check ego at the door, which I believe is the number one obstacle to running an effective meeting.

    Playing together might seem like a waste of time but throwing a game or icebreaker into the meeting might be just the thing to shake things up, especially in the morning. Nothing like a quick fast game of ping pong to get your teammates loosened up and ready to contribute.

  3. Have a Clear Objective(s).

    I hesitated putting an “s” on the end of objectives because accomplishing ONE thing in a meeting is a challenge. Whether you have 1 or 100 objectives, make it clear so that the team knows which lanes to run in. Have a vision of what you’re wanting to accomplish even if you don’t have it all figured out yet.

  4. Invite outsiders.

    Inviting someone to the meeting who’s done what you’re trying to accomplish can be helpful, but don’t underestimate inviting outsiders to speak into the meeting. Not everyone you invite has to be a specialist because even the most common voices offer a different angle. Everybody has filters that they see the world through and it can be very helpful to see how someone completely unrelated relates to what you’re trying to accomplish.

  5. Listen to all the voices.

    There are three types of people in every meeting according to Dan Roam in his book The Back of the Napkin. There are black markers, yellow highlighters and red 6a00d834624bd669e200e54f20193c8833-800wipens.

    Black markers are the super extroverts that can generate hundreds of ideas in a matter of minutes and scribble all over the whiteboard leaving barely any room for anyone else in the meeting to speak. God has gifted some people to generate ideas and we should listen but be careful not to make a decision quickly based on good salesmanship or a winsome personality. The loudest person is not always right. On that note, they’re not always wrong either. There just needs to be an equal platform for all voices to be heard and processed.

    Yellow highlighters are not the first to speak but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything good to say. They might say something like “Well, I’m not as good of an artist as so-and-so but I have a couple thoughts about what he said.” They might re-assemble a concept or two, or put the first thoughts through their own filter and come up with something either altogether different or complementary of the first idea.

    Red pens are always the last to speak and most times will not speak unless called upon. The tragedy is that many red pens have the best advice to give but you have to be persistent in extracting it out of them somehow. Usually encouraging someone like this to talk will work but they may not say everything. Their council is typically usually wise and timely, but they may be waiting last just for that purpose, to have the last word.

    Let’s face it, we all deal with pride no matter what kind of writing utensil we represent in a collaborative meeting. It just helps to know that everyone has something valid to contribute. You may have some introverts that need to text in a thought. The thought of speaking in front of people for some is worse than the thought of dying.

  6. Assign homework.

    Some are more diligent at completing assigned tasks than others but everyone ought to leave with some sort of responsibility to make what was decided upon become a reality.

  7. End meetings decisively.

    All good meetings must come to an end. If you’re the leader, saying “Alright, great work everyone!” puts a period on the end of the sentence. More may need to be covered with one or two in the meeting but those can be held offline for the sake of dismissing everyone else.

My friend and coworker Shannon wisely said, “Collaboration is freedom.”  There ought to be freedom in a meeting to speak, pitch, argue, laugh, etc. Giving your team freedom to do these things in a meeting not only leads to productivity but also to trust in one another.

Footnote: I think there is wisdom in having a week of the month, or a week every couple of months where you don’t meet with anyone unless absolutely necessary. This doesn’t mean you don’t help plan funerals, or answer emergencies, but it does mean that you don’t schedule the meetings. The Sabbath was created for a reason and if we don’t honor that principal we could end up in a dust-bowl of busyness minus productivity.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about productive collaboration in the comments below!

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