Town Talk Features

The Velvet Hammer: 4.24.19

Recently, I was promoted to a team leader, and one of my priorities is to make the most of my team’s time by not wasting their valuable energy with unnecessary meetings. Any helpful hints?
—Want Meetings That Actually Accomplish Something

Nobody likes to waste time in unnecessary or poorly planned meetings. Effective meetings require thoughtful planning with an agenda that provides flexibility so the entire team can contribute and feel they’ve been heard and valued. Believe it or not, according to a number of recent business studies, if you want to run a good meeting, managers should consider taking a comedy improv class. So how does a comedian set a stage that you as a manager can use to create a businesslike, productive atmosphere? Although some of the games used in improv may not work for the office, they can be adapted to a business setting and turn meetings from a punchline into a positive. For instance:

Start with a warm-up. As the meeting facilitator, consider going around the room and asking each of your team members to share something they did over the weekend. It could be just about anything that is brief and fun and gets everyone feeling at ease, which is conducive to giving them more confidence to express themselves—even if it means challenging their team leader.

Build on the creativity of others. Most of us are too quick to judge others’ ideas. In fact, those who feel they need to dominate a discussion can lose valuable contributions by staffers who feel intimidated to speak up. So, do as they do in improv, even if you aren’t excited about the direction being taken, accept the terms of the scene and add to it rather than contradicting it. In business, this is known as ‘plussing’ or building onto someone’s idea versus putting them on the defensive. It’s also a way to show respect for others and their contributions.

Listen better. Listening carefully to others is another core principle of improv. Unlike some managers who shut down creative thinking because they’re more focused on what they want to say, those who know how to improvise don’t plan ahead, but rather respond to what was just said. A fun exercise is to tell staffers that after someone finishes a thought, the next person should use that person’s final word as the first word of his/her thought. Listening also involves being succinct when talking so others have an opportunity to weigh in on a discussion.

Be open to a change in direction. Meetings would benefit with more openness and curiosity. Leaders need to use more questions like why, how and what if. By applying some of these improv methods, you’re likely to have more productive meetings where everybody can contribute and be heard and even have a few laughs along the way.

Joan Lee Berkman is a marketing and public relations consultant. If you have a question for Joan, send it to