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Brain Based Meetings

Brain Based Meetings

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings – it would seem that our working and even personal lives are driven by meetings. Some of us literally spend all day in meetings! Consider the quality of your meetings – do you enjoy them or do I hear a groan of exhaustion at the thought?

So given that meetings have becomes such a prominent part of our world, let’s consider how in 2016 and beyond we can make them more effective. As a professional facilitator as well as vacuum for all things neuroscience, I wanted to share with you some factors that can support your meetings.

1. Do you need a meeting? Seriously start by asking yourself and possibly involved others – Can this subject matter be dealt with without a meeting? Does the importance of the subject matter warrant meeting time?
2. Start and Finish with a positive – start by asking everyone ‘what is going well?’ or ‘what is positive in their life right now?’ Finish with having everyone appreciate someone in the room. The act of appreciation of self and others shifts our emotions to a more positive state. And it is in that state that we can think more clearly as our pre-frontal cortex is more engaged. Secondly, it creates a greater level of connection and trust with those in the room.
3. Establish protocols – Establish a set of protocols for the expected behaviour in the room. Typically, I have the group define the rules that they then agree to stick to. For regular meetings, these protocols are a reminder at the beginning of the meeting. This can be especially valuable given that we are attending many meetings.
4. Frame agenda items as questions – the brain thinks best in the presence of a question. Agenda items are typically statements. Consider reframing agenda items as questions which the group needs to discuss. For example an agenda item could be – Improving meetings. Instead – In what ways can we improve the quality of our meetings? Along with this goes actually having an agenda. An agenda allows for focus.
5. Give everyone a turn to speak – you have no doubt heard this before, yet done in a structured method of literally going around the room to give everyone a turn to say what they think ensures it is so. This allows for everyone to have a say and contribute rather than having agenda items which you think are closed yet post the meeting discover they are not.
6. Permit the expression of feelings – Yes, Feelings! When we express how we feel it supports better thinking. Thinking and feeling are inextricably linked. In order to know what we think, we have to be aware of, acknowledge and label our feelings. The work of Matt Lieberman from UCLA highlights that the act of putting feelings into words (affect labelling), even to ourselves, diminishes the response of the amygdala and other limbic regions (involved in dealing with a threat), in turn reducing emotional reactivity and retaining a connection with the pre-frontal cortex – that part we need to do our best thinking.
7. Encourage equality – there are two aspects here. First, everyone has a turn at speaking. Secondly equality indicates that we are all equals or peers in our ability to think. It is understood and acknowledged that power and level do exist in any meeting, yet equality’s message is that while in the room, we respect and appreciate that we all have equal capacity to think and speak for ourselves. It is amazing when this is observed where great ideas come from. I recently facilitated a strategy session for a client with a mixed audience from across the organisations. Some of the best operational suggestions came from an IT representative who was non-operational yet had relationships across the organisation and had visited the various company sites.
8. Environment – this element is about creating a physical environment that says to the participants ‘You Matter’. It is about creating an environment that allows participants to access their thinking and creativity and equally speak in safety and with ease. Environment takes many forms from the room setup to how people nourish themselves. Further it is key to note that the physical environment has an impact on people’s emotions and mood and in turn will impact on the quality of the thinking and participation.
9. Try Walking – when the meeting is a limited to 2 or 3 people, try a walking meeting. The research shows that walking meetings result in a greater level of creativity, improves communication and productivity. Walking meetings support both body and brain.
10. Technology – as previously covered in my blogs, our brains are not wired to multitask. Hence it is not humanly possible for our brains to focus on both what is being said as well as what new ‘must read’, ‘must answer’ message coming through on our devices. The physical presence of technology can also be seen to create a barrier in communications.
11. Law of Gases – One of the laws of gases states that a gas will expand to fill the container it occupies. Likewise, if meetings are scheduled for 60 minutes, they will inevitable take that long. The challenge here is that when there are meetings scheduled one after the other, where is our pre-frontal cortex, that part of the brain needed for paying attention and contributing and adding value, getting time for a recharge. How about a 45 minutes meeting and 15 minutes break to restore its capacity. It is also an opportunity to re-energise emotionally again supporting our ability to think better.

What small change can you make to the meetings you facilitate or are part of to make them more effective?

Unconscious Potential is a qualified Thinking Environment Facilitator and Trainer. We professionally facilitate meetings and also run in-house training programs in transforming meetings.