Every time we facilitate or manage an off-site meeting or event, we bring a lot with us.
Our vehicles are usually packed with necessities like centerpieces, easels, easel pads, signage, folders, programs, our documents . . . you name it.
Arguably, one of the most valuable items we haul is our trusty Husky toolbox.
It took us a while to realize we needed a container where we could prepack all the small office supplies one needs or might need when away from their office. We had been making do by grabbing a scissors from a desk and Post-it notes from the supply cabinet. But then we’d forget to return the scissors to the right person, and Linda wondered where her stapler was. And don’t even get us started on how much time it took to pack those items. Every. Single. Time.
If you regularly hold events away from the office, you never know when you might need a scissors or an extra roll of tape. Yes, course, you could ask someone at the conference center if you could borrow theirs. Or you could make a last-minute run to a store. But it’s less time-consuming and less stressful if you know exactly where yours is. Plus it builds credibility when someone says, “I need a Sharpie,” and you can practically hand them one before they finish the sentence.
So, up your game and bring your own supplies. You’ll be the hero.
You can pack office supplies in any container. We use an actual toolbox because it has a comfortable, heavy duty handle for carrying. It also closes with latches so that small items don’t fall out during transport. But a clear storage tub of any size would work.
Use smaller clear storage containers within the tool box (or larger tub) to keep things organized and easy to find. If you own a label maker (because really, who doesn’t?!), be sure to label each storage container so you can easily identify items and see those that need to be restocked.
While you could use opaque storage containers, clear ones make it much easier to see what is inside without opening each container. Time saver!
What you include in your toolbox depends on where the event or meeting is held. For example, you may add sunscreen and bug spray to the kit if you’re hosting an outdoor event.
But here’s a list of some standard supplies that can be prepacked and ready to go without too much preparation:
We love having these supplies ready to go at a moment’s notice. A quick review before an off-site event and we’re prepared for the unexpected. Our biggest challenge is remembering to restock items after every use.
Happy supply packing!
Planning an event or activity takes time and coordination. From the moment the brainstorming starts until the last attendee leaves, you need to know what’s going on and keep track of the details.
We believe in – and practice – documentation. Lots of it. We track everything leading up to the event welcome and detail the day of the activity until the last swag bag is grabbed.
Why? If you don’t write it down, you forget. And it becomes even more challenging to make sure a group of staff, volunteers, stakeholders, and others are on the same page.
It’s true. Every event is different. But these documents can help your gathering run smoothly.
By no means, do we consider this list exhaustive. Nor do you need to incorporate each of these tools into every event. Give them a try!
This won’t be a big surprise to many of you, but we love conferences and big events.
Yes, it’s true that we enjoy organizing them. We also enjoy attending them.
After all, you can gather information by watching online videos or reading about the latest industry trends via article or book. However, nothing replaces the face-to-face interactions that happen when people gather for a specific purpose.
When you attend a shared event or conference, you have opportunities to connect with others. You may gather new insight or hear a different perspective. When done right, conferences are energizing. You will walk away with at least a few tips that can make your personal or professional life stronger.
That said, every successful conference requires you to put forth some effort.
Here’s how you can make the most out of your time at a large event or gathering.
Before the Conference or Event
Enjoy your next conference or event!
Let’s face it: we spend a lot of time in meetings.
On average, employees attend 62 hours of meetings in a month, according to Forbes magazine. Related research from Bain & Company found that executives spent up to 15% of an organization’s collective time in meetings, a percentage that has been increasing in the last decade.
Sure, we could schedule fewer meetings but we could also make better use of the time we have together.
Earlier this year, I shared some tips with our our local chamber about how to make meetings more efficient, more productive, more fun. To prepare for the presentation, I analyzed observations and inhaled information from respected speakers and authors exploring similar topics. Below are some of the resources I found most helpful plus links to other Reach Partners posts related to #BetterMeetings.
Whether you have 15 minutes or five days, you’ll find these resources engaging. Enjoy!
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings!
Here are some good resources to help you make the most of your time together:
Culture at Work
Productive, meaningful meetings can only take place when you have a supportive and encouraging team and work environment. Here are some tools to help you define and build a work environment for positive innovation:
Reach Partners Articles
At Reach Partners, we’ve done a lot of research and thinking about how to make meetings better. After all, we’ve attended and led our fair share of them. Here are a few of our favorite blog posts on the topic:
Here’s your challenge for the month: Take on the difficult project that nobody else wants to do.
Or volunteer to handle the assignment that has been kicked back-and-forth between team members and do it with gusto.
Whoa … what?!
That’s right. Next time someone makes a request that nobody else wants to take on, make eye contact with the person and say, “yes.” Become the go-to person who solves problems and has an enthusiastic attitude.
Here’s how you can be the hero when facing a tough project:
"Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler
Okay, the quotation above contains a bit of hyperbole, but let’s face it: writing can be harder than you expect. Whether you’re drafting a document or creating content for your website, finding the right words and tone can cause the even the bravest to break into a sweat.
And then, we complicate things by bringing in the team.
Collaborative writing is an ever-increasing reality in our businesses and organizations. We gather a group in a meeting or pass a document back-and-forth, asking colleagues for feedback and input. After all, the more brains, the better the writing, right?
Like most creative endeavors, writing isn’t a natural team sport. Multiple writers can be frustrating and counter-effective and, in the worst-case scenarios, completely cause communication to derail. If you’ve ever spent an hour debating the merits of using “farm” or “hobby farm” to describe a rural venture, you know what we mean.
That said, collaboration can lead to good written work if you follow some ground rules.
First of all, identify a lead writer and someone to guide the process. This last role may be a project manager or the lead writer, but be clear on who it is. (Shout-out to Erin Hemme Froslie at Whistle Editorial who works with us on our writing woes!)
Now, embrace some of these guidelines to help the process go more smoothly:
1. Clarify what you need to accomplish.
It’s easy to spend time and energy on words and phrases that don’t matter. Make sure everybody around the table understands the big picture – your ultimate goal and the audience you are trying to reach. Are you trying to articulate your event’s mission or update an employee policy manual? Are you trying to attract new customers with clever marketing copy or thanking donors for their generosity? Clarifying your goals keeps everyone focused on the task at hand and, hopefully, keeps them from getting too deep in the weeds.
2. Establish an outline.
If you’re going to collaborate on a writing project, this step is critical. This is where everyone has a chance to contribute without actually writing. An outline captures the team’s ideas and key phrases, but keeps the group from getting bogged down in the technical aspects of writing. Focus on the “what you want to say,” not the “how you say it” part of communication. Before everyone walks away, get buy-in on the final outline. This should alleviate any attempts to completely rewrite later in the process.
3.Create a standard guide.
Ideally, your company or organization has a style guide for writing. This document helps to establish voice and tone and even word choices, so that all written material sounds like it’s coming from the same source even if there are different authors. If you don’t have a formal style guide, you can get your team to agree to a core set of writing values. Are you direct or more poetic? Do you back up statements with evidence or present information in a more creative way? Do you use the more informal “we/you” or do you present everything from a third-person point of view? Are you more serious or playful? If everyone agrees from the onset, you (hopefully!) won’t have someone wordsmithing the life out of your brilliant copy later on.
4. Communicate where you are in the writing or editing process.
At some point, drafts should be shared with the entire team. Be clear on what kind of feedback the lead writer wants or needs. Ask yourself: is this iteration meant to clean up issues like style or for bigger things like structure and flow? Ask your colleagues specific questions to provide crystal clarity on the revision’s purpose: Are our key terms defined on first reference? Does it take too long to get to the main point? Are the words spelled correctly? Do you notice any grammatical mistakes? It’s frustrating for everyone if the lead writer is expecting substantive edits and everyone comes back with nit-picky tweaks.
5. Designate a final editor (and approver).
Be clear about who pulls together the final copy and who gives it the final stamp of approval. Let’s face it, differences of opinion are going to pop up. That’s okay. Explore those differences, but don’t try to make everyone happy. You won’t succeed. To make progress, designate one person as the final authority on what is written. Take into consideration everyone else’s perspective, but don’t let petty arguments over a word choice hold up the project.
Writing may not be a team sport, but these tips may make the process more collaborative. Happy writing!
Every meeting has the potential to veer into a tangent, to carry its attendees into a deep forest so far from the original path that it’s nearly impossible to find the route home.
It’s easy to blame this on others – those who arrange the agenda, those whose comments lead us astray. But whether we like it or not, we are all accountable for keeping meetings effective. If you’re in charge, the steps you need to take are more obvious. If you’re not officially in charge, there are still things you can do to keep everyone on track.
But wait, you say. I’m not the meeting leader. What can I do? A lot, it turns out.
It can be uncomfortable to step in and say something. But if you don’t deploy some guerilla tactics, you’re actually rewarding bad meeting behavior. An easy way to bring people back to the meeting at hand is to use the power of curiosity: Ask questions instead of launching accusations.
Here are some specific ways to address some major meeting derailers. Keep these ideas in mind and you will move from a passive observer to problem solver – all while making your meetings better.
Problem: Meeting starts without a purpose.
Solution: When a meeting starts without a purpose, outcomes or products simply ask: “Can you take a second to go over the overall purpose of this meeting and what we need to have when we’re done? That information will help me stay focused.”
Recognize we are all doing our best. Sometimes that best doesn’t come with a clear purpose. The meeting organizer may not know that meetings need purpose. They may not have had an opportunity to learn. Don’t be snarky, rude, or mean – ask the questions honestly and kindly.
Problem: Discussion goes off track.
Solution: This happens often in meetings, right? It usually goes something like this: Todd (and we all know Todd, we may have even been him!) has this great idea for new bedroom footwear, and he must share every single detail now. Great, except the meeting is about brainstorming nightwear for cats.
When Todd goes off on his random tangent, speak up and say: “These are excellent ideas for slippers. I know we need to get back to our main topic, but your ideas may be important for a future meeting. I will write them down for future discussion. Can we get back to discussing number four on the agenda: cat pajamas?”
Or use PAL (purpose, agenda, limit) to remind the group of the meeting’s purpose, the agenda items being addressed, and a time limit for discussion.
Problem: One person dominates discussion.
Solution: This situation can get sticky. If the person dominating the conversation is the official meeting leader, you might not be able to use the following technique. But if it’s a peer, chime in with a suggestion. Say something like: “This is an important point. Todd has shared his views, and it would be great to hear from everyone else. Can we go around the room?”
Problem: Decisions and actions not documented
Solution: It’s important to have somebody jotting down decisions and action points throughout the meeting. Even if these notes don’t turn into formal meeting minutes, they keep a group from spinning and having the same discussion every single time they meet.
If the meeting leader isn’t capturing decisions, suggest that somebody serve as a Monkey Minder who takes notes. But if it’s too late for that, ask a question: “There have been decisions made here. Can we make sure someone is capturing those?” Or, step in and assign yourself the role: “There have been decisions made here. Is anyone officially writing these down? If not, I’d be willing to share my notes with the group.”
Consider your tone and remember that we don’t share the same brain, urgencies, or priorities. The rambler, the dominator, and the wayward meeting leader are often doing what’s easy or natural. Take personal responsibility for your attention and actions in a meeting.
Problem: Not paying attention in the meeting.
Solution: Check in with yourself. Are you carrying emotions from another conversation or are you worried about something you’re missing? Are you present and taking responsibility for listening and contributing? Are you engaged, asking questions, and taking your own notes?
Sadly, 98% of us can’t actually multitask. (Take this fun test to see how you do.) So if you’re texting, reading an article, or browsing the Internet during a meeting, you are not paying attention. Take a deep breath, put down your phone/laptop/tablet, grab a pen and take your own notes. The act of writing will help you pay attention to the meeting at hand.
Keeping meetings on track isn’t easy, but it’s something anybody and everybody can help to do. Keep these guerilla tactics in mind during your next gathering, and you’ll have some control over keeping things efficient and on point.
It’s relatively easy to think about ways that rituals unite, connect and motivate us. Imagine the ways your family celebrates and recognizes holidays. Picture how a sports team carries out a certain behavior or chant before competition starts.
When done right, rituals are mindful actions that help us build community or identity. They create strong and long-lasting connections.
As such, rituals have a place in supporting a healthy work environment among both teams and at the organizational level. Fun rituals that solve problems and do no harm can help to build effective teams and make the meetings they hold more productive.
Every team has rituals, even if you don’t recognize them as such. We have rituals around hiring, recognition, production, innovation, quality, promotions, family, customer service, community service, learning, etc.
Being intentional about those rituals can reinforce a business need or a team’s need for connection. Effective rituals fit your leadership style and the personality of your team – they feel natural. What works for one organization or team won’t necessarily build trust among another.
Think about the Kiwanis Club. Can you imagine a meeting without music? This service club has a ritual of spontaneous singing, which leads to a spirit of cooperation. (And, let’s be honest: it may be the difference between a boring club and a lively one!)
Rituals do not need to be complex or serious. They can be short and silly. The important thing to remember is that rituals should do no harm. If an activity introduces shame or humiliation, it will promote disconnection instead of unity.
Here are some ideas for meeting rituals that can build up teams:
Have you ever stepped into a meeting and experienced that “walking on eggshells” feeling? Like you’ve missed the joke, and no one is going to share it with you? Have you been in a meeting where you were afraid to tell the truth, bring up the hard facts, or provide constructive feedback?
The fact is, good meetings are a symptom of great teams.
Amy Edmondson was a part of Google’s Project Aristotle, where the tech company investigated what makes a team productive, innovative, or effective. In essence, what makes a team great? Through her research, she coined the term “psychological safety.” Psychological safety is a belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. It describes a healthy way people relate to each other as a team.
You can’t have better meetings (collaborations, decisions) without psychological safety. It’s good for the mental health of your team and decreases employee turnover. If that’s not enough for you, consider improved employee engagement.
Teams with psychological safety share accountability; they hold themselves and others accountable, which makes working together both demanding and inviting. There is a shared believe that each person on the team is capable and has the skills and knowledge to do their work that contributes to the whole.
On teams with psychological safety, there is an attitude of “we are better together.” Employees feel fulfilled because the team respects and needs their perspective, input, and ideas. There is satisfaction in the work when each person contributes meaningfully in the way they were hired, called, or volunteered to do.
Psychological safety means team members can show up to a meeting as their authentic selves, share ideas, take risks, and ask for help in front of the group. Curiosity replaces blame. Imagine being asked “what needs to happen?” instead of being asked “how could you?”
Meetings are where we solve problems, make decisions, share ideas. To do our best work, we need to be able to say what we are thinking. We can’t avoid or skirt around problems.
So, how can we encourage and build psychological safety?
Once your team starts to express psychological safety, you’ll see relationships grow, ideas expand, productivity increase. When we bring out true selves to work and to our meetings – everyone benefits.
Last year we started a new tradition at Reach Partners. Every week we set aside time to read during work hours.
At first, this felt a bit indulgent. We enjoy reading but – like many others – we typically crack open our books outside traditional work hours so that we can “do” things at work. And yet, reading is one important way that we learn and grow professionally. We decided our work calendar should reflect that.
With that in mind, we’d like to share a few of the titles that we’ve read recently – and a few that we’ll be tackling soon. Drop us a line if you have any additional suggestions. Happy reading!
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Anita’s Mastermind group recently read this novel about trees and the people who love them. If you think fiction doesn’t have a place in professional development, think again. This novel gave the group plenty of opportunities to reflect on themes and lessons that are applicable to work and life. The writing is also incredibly beautiful, making it a joy to read. One sample: “A great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planning is silent and growth is invisible.” (Uh … true for people and project management, too, right?)
Where the Action Is by J. Elise Keith
Rachel has been digging into resources about meetings in preparation for an upcoming presentation. This book is golden. It’s deep, well-researched, and a joy to read. Keith breaks down every business meeting into a taxonomy that provides specific tips – not generic best practices – on formats, timing, and framing. You still may not love every (or any) meeting, but you will find value in the engagement and team performance in the meetings you do have.
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
We both can't wait to dive into Brown’s new book, Dare to Lead. We’re big fans of Brown’s research into courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her books remind us how we want to show up at work, at home, in our volunteer roles, and with our families. We’re looking forward to gleaming her insights about how we can be even better at work. After all, as Brown says, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”
yesterday I was the moon by Noor Unnahar
Anita’s teenage niece recommended this title, and when someone recommends you read poetry – you do it! Unnahar is a young woman from Pakistan. Her imagery and art journaling reflect both her age and the deep insights she has into human nature. We find that our minds expand when we explore new genres. Reading something unexpected or different challenges us to see the world – and our work – in a new light.
Meetings Suck by Cameron Herold
If you’ve ever rolled your eye at the idea of attending a meeting, don’t read this book. The good part is Herold includes a paragraph or two about attitude: go into every meeting prepared like it’s a job interview.
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
We were so inspired by this book that we traveled to Minneapolis last year to hear Parker speak in person. “The Art of Gathering” shares a human-centered approach to planning gatherings. Learn how to create meaningful, memorable experiences at work, or with family and friends. (One of her great observations: “Hosting is not democratic, just like design isn’t. Structure helps good parties, like restrictions help good design.”) Parker stresses that the most powerful gatherings begin with purpose and that every event is an opportunity to connect with others.
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott
We’ve both read this book before (here’s Anita’s review) but Scott’s work is always worth revisiting. Her seven principles for transforming critical conversations into ones of passion, integrity, authenticity, and collaboration are extremely valuable. After all, as Scott says: “the conversation is not about the relationship, the conversation is the relationship.”