3 Activities to shake up your meetings
Marga Ferrez | Aug 13, 2019

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

Are you a Scrum Master who wants to make sure everyone on your team’s being heard? Or are you in charge of leading a meeting and want to make sure people are focused? Maybe you’re just interested in hearing a bit more about how other companies are addressing their challenges.

I’m a Technical Project Manager at letgo and one of my roles is Scrum Master. In this post, I want to share 3 activities I carry out when I need to improve communication within a team (whether they’re using Scrum or not).

First of all, a bit of context about how we work at letgo: constant iteration and improvement is part of our culture. From our code to the coffee machine we use, we’re always questioning if there’s a way to make it even better. We’re organized in squads which contain all the roles needed to develop a project from start to finish, and good communication really keeps us fast.

That’s why we put a lot of effort into making meetings effective and productive. The following activities have helped me achieve different goals at different points in time, and I hope they’re useful to you too!

 

1. Forced connections, to foster a creative mindset

I found this one on Hubspot’s blog while searching for activities that would break the ice and foster creativity at brainstorming sessions.

What this activity brings to a meeting:

  • It’s fun
  • You get to know your colleagues
  • You create a safe environment where everyone can be creative

How to prepare for this activity:

As a facilitator, bring 3 different objects to the meeting. The more different they are, the better- that will force participants to be more creative and the results will be more fun.

For example:

banana and an apple are too close (they’re both fruits)

banana and a whiteboard marker are a bit further but still too close (they can both be found in an office, they both have rounded and elongated shapes)

banana and a shoe are more different so they’ll work well

How the activity works:

  • Ask team members to select two or more objects and to try to explore the different ways they can be associated. They can draw, write or act out the relationship between the objects.
  • Set a time limit, usually about 5 minutes.
  • Go around and have everyone talk about the connections they’ve made. You’ll hear some useful, rational connections, but also some funny, silly ones.

 

 

What you’ll get out of it:

  • It will help everyone disconnect from what they were doing before the meeting and focus.
  • It works well as an ice breaker or as a start to a brainstorming session. It can also provide a break in a meeting to help everyone focus again.
  • The more open you leave the activity, the more you’ll be surprised by how people express themselves. I’ve seen funny drawings and cartoons, and all kinds of stories and poems.

 

2. Everyone has a word, to make retrospectives fast and focused

This is my personal adaptation of Lean Coffee. I frequently use it for retrospectives and it helps involve the whole team in discussions and makes sure we’re not forgetting any topics that we should be talking about.

What this activity brings to a meeting:

  • Frequent retrospectives
  • It increases team members’ participation
  • It’s fast, so it can help to keep everyone focused
  • It prevents addressing only important issues and skipping easy wins

How to prepare for this activity:

  • Bring post-its or cards, and a few pens
  • Bring a timer

How the activity works:

  • Team members have a few minutes (usually 2–5) to write the subjects they want to talk about in the retrospective on post-its or cards. Each member should write at least one card, and three at most.
  • Go around the room, read them out loud and explain each one in less than 30 seconds.
  • Remove duplicates if needed and keep all the cards or post-its.
  • Divide the time assigned for the rest of the session between the total amount of topics to see how many minutes you have for each one. For example, if you have 10 subjects to talk about in 40 minutes, you have 4 minutes for each subject.
  • Pick a random card, set the timer and read the title of the card you picked. The person who wrote the card should give a brief intro to the problem/issue.
  • The whole team comes up with ideas and actions that would improve or solve the issue. Write them down.
  • If you finish the discussion before the time is up, reset the timer and move to the next card.
  • If the time is up, stop the conversation and move to the next card. You can return to the discussion at the end of the session if there’s leftover time, or you can set up a follow-up meeting if it’s a big issue that merits more discussion.
  • After the meeting, share your notes with everyone who participated.

What you’ll get out of it:

  • At the end of the meeting, all team members should have spoken at least once.
  • As a team, you should have a list of actionable ideas, especially for issues that are easy to solve.
  • Participants will feel awake and focused, since it’s a fast-paced activity.

 

3. The magic Totem spell, to balance communication and respect turns to speak

This activity is inspired by a game I used to play when I was little, and I’ve found it has been very successful. The main idea is that only the person holding the totem is allowed to speak. It’s useful when you want to make sure participation at meetings is balanced and inclusive.

What this activity brings to a meeting:

  • It increases the participation of all team members
  • It helps team members gauge how much or how little they’re participating
  • It increases awareness of interruptions and how much time anyone can speak
  • It helps the team self-regulate

How to prepare for this activity:

Find an object that will serve as a totem and give it a name. My recommendation is that you find something that is easy to hand over to someone else, and that’s soft enough that it can be thrown without breaking or hurting anyone. Foam balls and plush toys usually work very well, but you can improvise with other everyday objects like a pack of gum or a water bottle. We have a Harry Potter plush toy that we also use for our dailies

How the activity works:

  • Explain that the totem is magic and its power is that only the person holding it can speak. Explain that someone can request the totem if they want to talk, and that you can also hand the totem to someone if you want them to talk. Participants can invoke its magic by calling out its name (“Harry, Harry!”) if someone’s speaking without holding it. You can also be creative with the consequences of speaking without holding the totem.
  • Once the meeting starts, be very strict with the rules and enlist all participants’ help in stopping people from talking when they’re not holding the totem.

What you’ll get out of it:

  • You might not see results right away, and you might have to use it in several meetings before you see the effect. But in my case I noticed a huge change from the first time I used it.
  • The team will start to take responsibility for calling out someone who doesn’t follow the rules of the game.
  • Team members will be more aware of when they’re participating too much, and will cede their turn to others who aren’t talking as much. Interruptions will also be reduced.

Something to keep in mind:

  • Keep close watch to see how the totem moves. You can change the rules if you see it’s not working as well as it should: the totem always moves clockwise, you can’t request the totem, etc.

I really hope you these activities help you improve your meetings and foster open, focused, and inclusive communication within your teams. Let me know how it goes in the comments!