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5 Strategies to transform standard meetings into creative brainstorming sessions

BCBusiness + Vancouver Theatre Sports | Ken Lawson, corporate trainer at Vancouver TheatreSports League shares some advice for getting the most of your meetings


BCBusiness Vancouver TheatreSports League

Ken Lawson, corporate trainer at Vancouver TheatreSports League shares some advice for getting the most of your meetings

One of the best real-world examples for the ability to be creative while collaborating is improv comedy. But when it comes to an office setting or meeting, some employees feel unable to participate.

While corporate employees may not be expected to be comedians, collaborative creativity is valued across industries—which is why improv is increasingly used in corporate training and team building.

“All human beings are improvisers innately,” says Ken Lawson, corporate trainer at Vancouver TheatreSports League. “At VTSL, we’ve developed an infrastructure that allows us to collaborate at a very high level,” says Lawson. “We bring that infrastructure and teach people, and show them how it’s applicable to the work they’re doing and adapt it to the culture they’re working within. We call it the Improv Mindset.”

Lawson, who is also the lead facilitator at the Granville Island group and a seasoned improv actor himself, offers five strategies for business leaders eager to facilitate creativity and collaboration in meetings.

Build on Ideas With “Yes, And”

The foundation for a creative and collaborative meeting is trust; each employee should know that they can contribute ideas freely, without judgment or roadblocks.

Lawson says one of the key ingredients to create this feeling of trust is to actively build on one another’s ideas. During ideation meetings, it’s easy to unintentionally shoot down one another’s ideas with too many questions and criticisms before the idea is given a chance

So one exercise Lawson suggests is “Yes, And.” Using the Improv Mindset, one person offers an idea (i.e. “driving to the mall”) and the rest of the group must build on that idea and develop a story around it. The same exercise is useful in brainstorming meetings to explore the potential of each idea before criticizing or rejecting it.

Instead of always asking questions about other’s ideas or looking for reasons why an idea may not work, try building on ideas using the “Yes, And” methodology to see how it transforms.


Be an Active Listener

Lawson moderates another activity called “Listen Better, Listen Worse,” which requires participants to be more cognizant of how they’re listening.

At the office, have two people engage: One speaks about a passion of theirs while the other listens. First, the listener is encouraged to engage completely to hear everything that’s said. Then Lawson instructs them to transition into “listening worse,” or disengaging, which results in passive body language, playing on their phones, not looking at the speaker and sometimes walking away.

The listeners then learn active listening techniques, such as appropriate eye contact and using affirmatives and nodding, which encourages speakers to continue and forces listeners to be fully present in the conversation.


Keep Meetings Gadget Free

While smartphones allow many of us to work anywhere at anytime, they can be a tempting distraction during meetings.

The Improv Mindset is about being fully present. Smartphones prevent meeting participants from being fully present and speakers can feel that their ideas aren’t valued when listeners are too busy checking their email to fully engage. Simply having the phone visible can create the feeling of not being fully present and engaged. To curb this, create a “gadget-free zone” in meeting rooms. Encourage staffers to leave their phones at their desks so they aren’t tempted to check their most recent emails during a meeting.


The Pause

Believe it or not, improving two-way communication during meetings requires a moment of silence.

Lawson instructs corporate training participants to pause for a few seconds before speaking. Whether answering a direct question or building on an idea, allowing additional time to collect your thoughts helps you to better articulate. And better communication can lead to better ideas.


Idea Ownership and Group Glory Over Individual Ideas  

Above all, individual participants in a meeting shouldn’t be overly protective about their own ideas. The Improv Mindset is about being open to change and allowing your ideas to evolve based on the contributions of others. Clinging to your own contribution prevents you from recognizing other ideas from the group that might better solve the problem.

That’s why it’s important for all contributors to keep their focus on the “glory of the group.” It’s not about having the best idea; it’s about being open to and building on all ideas to collaboratively come up with a solution.


Created by BCBusiness in partnership with Vancouver TheatreSports League