5 unusual meeting styles that just might work

If meetings are the bane of your work life, you are not alone. “Too many meetings” is the #1 time-waster at the office, according to a survey by Salary.com.

In other words, rather than being an essential part of communicating and collaborating with colleagues, meetings have become a distraction that keeps us from getting things done.

If you feel this way about your own meetings, it’s time to reinvent them. Here are some unusual meeting styles that may help you get started:

#1 – The conference bike meeting

One of the more unusual meeting ideas is the bike meeting. In bike meetings, at most seven people ride a special “conference bike,” all of them facing each other and pedaling the bike forward – but only one person steers and faces the direction where the bike is headed. This makes it a pretty good metaphor for how most meetings go.

It might sound like a theme park ride, but as you can see from the video above, this conference bike is actually used within the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. It’s used by some teams to move together to other buildings, for team building, and even to exchange ideas and have meetings. It’s also used by other organizations, such as Alfred University in New York, for tours and special events.

Key takeaway: You don’t necessarily have to get on one of these conference bikes, but having fun, novel experiences with your team and doing things together can help build rapport and turn something dreary into an interesting activity.

#2 – Meetings influenced by meeting cost calculators

“Time is money” is a cliché, but it’s especially true with meetings. Meeting cost calculators are a sobering reminder of this. Basically, these are apps that track the financial cost of the meeting based on the hourly wages of the participants, the time spent on the meeting, and any other resources spent. Here are some examples:

Meetr (iPhone)
Simple meeting cost calculator (online app)
MeetingKing Meeting Cost Calculator (online app)
Meeting Cost Calculator (Android)

Why does this approach work? Companies perhaps think nothing of spending an hour on a meeting, but once the financial cost is made clear, they start rethinking how much time and energy they should be spending on those meetings.

Key takeaway: Are the time and resources (including human) spent on your meetings an investment or a cost? Would that time and money be better spent getting other things done or growing the business? Be hyper-aware of this every time you get the urge to initiate a meeting.

#3 – Stand-up meetings

Want to cut back on meeting time? Try conducting the meeting while standing up. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, sit-down meetings tend to take 34% longer than stand-up meetings – yet they didn’t produce better decision-making than stand-up meetings.

Key takeaway: For your next meeting, why not keep it short and spend it standing up? Keeping people on their feet – even literally – might help your team spend less time talking and more time doing.

#4 – Silent meetings

It sounds like a paradox, but silent meetings are often electronic meetings where participants type in their ideas and responses. There’s no audio or video, and even if people are meeting in the same room, they just type out what they intend to say.

The Post Growth Institute meets this way. According to this article about their meeting culture, silent meetings are more productive because participants can paste in pre-typed ideas, action items are easily highlighted, and the meeting text is searchable.

Or if you have roughly $5,000 per day to spend on meetings, meeting facilitator Douglas Griffen and his team can come over and facilitate your silent meeting for you. Here’s how their setup works: as Griffen’s team facilitates the discussion, all participants get to talk simultaneously and anonymously – dispensing with hierarchies and personal hesitations. In this setup, as many as 200 ideas can crop up and the facilitator narrows them down for the group to rank and vote on, all without saying a word.

Key takeaway: Sometimes, the actual talking in meetings gets in the way of idea generation and sharing. If your team can meet via instant messaging, even anonymously, you might be impressed with the number of ideas and level of creativity.

#5 – No meetings at all

Fishbowl, an inventory software company, did away with meetings for one quarter of a year. Their product development team still had a weekly meeting, but they dropped other department meetings altogether. They later reported that this decision led to more time directly serving customers and other employees, and reduced management drama.

If this approach of removing meetings altogether isn’t realistic for your team, you can pick a day each week where you’ll all be meeting-free, such as “No Meeting Fridays,” just so more emphasis is placed on getting things done, and people can catch up with work they missed due to attending meetings earlier in the week.

Key takeaway: Don’t have meetings if you can help it. But, if you must meet, make sure it’s absolutely necessary and that you run it effectively (see our previous tips here).

Reinventing the meeting

Are any of these approaches the cure to bad meetings? Of course not. Meetings are only as effective as the processes and the people involved. Keep testing different approaches until you find what works with your team. Just don’t hurt anyone with that conference bike.

Post by Celine Roque

Celine Roque is an independent author and marketer focused on entrepreneurship, marketing, and creative work. Her writing has appeared in Gigaom and The Content Strategist.