31 fun ways to start a meeting and make mornings better

by Amara Pope
morning meeting activities

Jon: How was the meeting?
Bob: Well… the donuts made the hour-long meeting worth it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother to go.

Do you go to meetings for the donuts or for the conversation?

Most companies invariably have one (or more) morning meetings, and we often find them annoying and disruptive to our daily routine or tasks at hand.

Meetings are considered important for moving your business forward through sharing information, solving problems, reviewing performance, making decisions and planning projects. They can also help to foster team building and inclusivity.

However, meetings are usually seen as dull events that can be dreaded by everyone…including the organizer.

They also cost the company good money.

The National Statistics Council says 37% of employee time is spent in meetings, and 47% of employees consider too many meetings to be the biggest waste of time on any day – more than social media or email.

As a leader, how can you turn your meetings from “dull and dreaded” to “energized and effective”?

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31 morning meeting activities to energize your team

Here are few morning meeting activities you can do to run engaged and productive meetings for all attendees:

1. Start at an odd time

Instead of the usual 9 a.m. morning meeting, start your session at say 8:48 a.m. Having an unusual start time is useful in helping attendees remember a meeting time.

The brain may associate regulation with “boring” and “predictable” so, if the time is altered from the regular 8:30 or 9 o clock meeting to something a little more off-beat, it will not only help attendees remember that odd time, but also not associate the meeting with “dullness”.

Also when you say 8:48 a.m., start right on dot. Don’t wait if the senior most person isn’t present. Set expectations with your team beforehand so that you all expect to start the meeting at the appointed time.

Do not allow latecomers to attend or better yet have a silly consequence for late attendees!

When meetings start on time, they are more likely to finish on time. They are also usually more productive and allows the meeting to unfold quickly and effectively.

2. Break the ice with fun icebreakers

Use the first 10 minutes as a social mixer or icebreaker. Asking your team how they’re doing and starting your meetings off with an icebreaker and some small talk can do wonders for your relationship.

TeamBuilding has an awesome list of icebreaker questions you can try.

For example, everyone can be asked to say one interesting thing they did over the weekend or brag about one accomplishment at work. They can even share a funny incident that happened to them or in their department since the last meeting.

Instead of taking turns going clock-wise or anti-clock wise around the room –make it even more interesting by playing catch-ball.

To play catch-ball:

  • Everyone stands in a circle.
  • You take a rubber ball and throw it randomly at one person.
  • He/she shares his weekend experience or funny incident and then throws the ball to another random person.
  • Not following any pattern makes it a lot more fun!

Sometimes people miss catching the ball…and that leads to some laughs too!

This is a great way to set a relaxed and fun mood to morning meetings which are generally perceived as serious, mind-numbing events.

The “catch-ball” technique can also be done virtually with online spinners, dice, or simply having people talk in the order that they entered the group chat.

3. Start with a pop-quiz

Preferably, pertaining to the topic of the meeting. This not only wakes up all participants, it also sends a message that everyone needs to be prepared for meetings. They should have read the information and notes sent prior to the meeting and understood the agenda thoroughly.

This is a great method to ensure productive and effective morning meetings where you have everyone engaged and participating.

4. Try a crazy location

unusual meeting location

This will add an element of fun and reignite originality. Instead of “Conference Room #5”, try “Picnic Table #2” out behind the office building – or chose a local coffee shop. It’s amazing what a simple change of venue can do for your team’s productivity and creativity.

You can even steal a unique meeting location idea from mobile game publisher “Genera Games”. They hold their meetings on the basketball court, shooting hoops, and brainstorming while they play a quick, pick-up game. This also enhances team spirit and cohesiveness while giving an energy boost to team members.

If you are on a remote team, try giving your team members a challenge to all go to the same type of environment like a Tim Hortons, or a more general requirement, like a local coffee shop. This may even help your remote workers to get out of the house and have a fresh mind by changing their scenery. This could also allow remote workers to discover a local venue that they can talk about to the rest of the team, at your meeting.

5. Have some food fun

You may have skipped a hearty breakfast to attend the early morning meeting, but this fun food game will take care of your rumbling stomach.

Ask one member of the team to bring a new and different kind of bread to each meeting (You have to ask them in advance). Rotate this responsibility to each member of the group. You could even vote on the best “bread winner” of the month.

For remote teams, try having a virtual pizza party or sharing a meal with the team whether it’s one team member’s breakfast and another team member’s dinner time. Eating during the meeting can make for interesting conversations and add a more light and friendly feeling to your discussions.

6. Play it out

A great way to make sure everyone is awake and alert during “morning meetings” is to start with a simple game or brain teaser. This also lets the creative juices flowing.

One interesting game mentioned by Dave Gray in his book Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers is the “Anti-Problem”.

In this game, meeting attendees are asked to identify ways to solve the problem opposite to their current problem. For example, if the goal is to increase footfalls at the retail store, then the person has to solve the anti-problem: How to reduce footfalls at the retail store?

The purpose of the game is to get people to look at a problem from an entirely opposite perspective. Looking at things differently sometimes makes you aware of the actual issues that are contributing to the real problem. It also enables you to think of “out-of-the-box” solutions.

This is just one example of the kind of team activities for work that will have a positive ripple effect on employees across your company.

7. Play an improv

An improv is a form of theatre in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted, and is created spontaneously by the performers.

Get your meeting attendees to do an improv – whatever feels fun and exciting for them. It could be for as short as 10 minutes.

This sounds silly, but hear me out: the more playful the environment is, the more your team will feel relaxed and comfortable sharing thoughts with one another.

It will open your minds and prepare the team for more traditional brainstorming. The result would be a deeper dive to resolve issues with increased creativity.

Also, becoming more comfortable and silly will increase team building and foster an open and welcoming environment.

Improv and role-playing can also be done virtually, and can lead to some hilarious conversations between team members. You can also turn this into a fun way to problem-solve, if there are any issues that need to be addressed at work – allowing your team members to act out scenarios they have faced with clients, for example, can allow team members to both observe the situation differently and see the situation from multiple perspectives.

8. Toss some balloons

Another fun way to brainstorm on problems is to get the attendees to write ideas to a given issue on a piece of paper (one per sheet), fold the paper and put it inside a balloon.

Then blow up the balloons, toss them around for 30 seconds and then let each member can catch one balloon. Let them pop out the idea sheet from their balloon and build on that idea.

Using another person’s idea to build a solution leads to creative and productive outputs.

Virtual teams can also do this activity using anonymous surveys and allow contributors to read out suggestions and ideas, without disclosing who came up with each suggestion.

9. Stick ideas on-the-go

sticky notes

Line the walls of your meeting room with different problems statements like “How can we improve the quality of XYZ?” Or create an online mind map for remote workers to contribute to.

Give meeting members a “sticky” notepad, and ask them to write down solutions to each of those problems. Or, give them access to the online mind map and have them all contribute solutions to the given problems.

Having all of the questions and solutions visible, in a large space, is a great way to see a huge wall/ screen of ideas, where everyone has contributed. This promotes team building and demonstrates a sense of collaboration within the team.

10. Set the agenda of the meeting

Setting a clear agenda for your morning meeting is vital for several reasons.

First, it gives a clear purpose and meaning to the meeting. This helps invitees to determine how important it is for them to attend and they can prioritize their work accordingly.

Second, knowing the topic of a meeting gives attendees time to prepare basic ideas that leads to a productive discussion or debate.

Next, without knowing the purpose of the meeting, people can get side-tracked and issues or discussions about the company can be hijacked by random discussions about Netflix movies and debates about who deserved to win that dance or singing competition that aired the night before.

Prepare agenda items (not more than 3-5) and send it to the attendees the day before the meeting. Agenda items should be narrow, focused and time-bound. Example: “Social Media Strategy-15 minutes”.

11. Send invites out early

Distribute a detailed invitation at least three days before the meeting.

People need time in advance to schedule their plans, with the meeting in mind. Especially if you are working on a remote team, all members are working with different timelines and time zones.

Last-minute meeting invites tend to lead to unproductive meetings or lead to late or absent team members.

Give team members enough time in advance to plan accordingly.

12. Assign roles

Use the agenda to assign roles and what contribution – suggestions, ideas, and proposals – you expect from each participant. The best meetings are interactive, where everyone gets involved and participates.

You can also use this opportunity to assign responsibility to any one person of the group (a different one each time) to get bread, or set up an online mind map.

This increases anticipation for the meeting which goes a long way in increasing attendance and engagement.

13. Send documents rather than have a group reading session

If there are reports or notes than need to be reviewed in advance send them to the attendees early enough so that all attendees can actually read them.

Otherwise, your meeting will turn into a “reading session” which will not be a productive use of anyone’s time.

14. Invite only relevant people

All the fun and games and pre-planning will be effective only when team members who are relevant to the topic of discussion are part of the meeting.

Employees who are not required to be part of any discussion can become disruptive, and drag conversations off-track. It is also a waste of company resources to have employees attend meetings where they don’t or can’t contribute.

15. Buzz people

To ensure that meetings don’t go “off-agenda,” have a policy where participants can “buzz” anyone who tries to bring any issues not pertaining to the topic of the current meeting.

These topics can be noted down for future discussions or meetings. You can use a table buzzer or just say the word “buzz”. This technique is particular effective if you have someone who likes to hijack meetings.

16. Have a ‘no distractions’ policy

no distractions policy

Ask participants to refrain from using phones during discussions unless it’s being used to take notes.

Ideally, you should also refrain from making presentations. Meeting should be a place for brainstorming and decision making, not a PowerPoint show.

You want to talk WITH employees not AT them.

17. Get donations

To prevent distractions from ringing of the mobile phones – that can cause a snag in a meetings’ productivity – keep a policy that anyone whose phone rings must make a donation to a charitable foundation.

This is an all-round win-win if your company already has a nonprofit organization that they donate to.

18. Reiterate agenda details

At the beginning of the meeting reiterate the specific agenda of the meeting. This helps attendees focus their attention and understand what is required of them.

Many employees attend back-to-back meetings, so it’s helpful when the agenda is repeated. The meeting organizer should also make it clear what decisions need to be made or what actions need to be taken by the end of that meeting.

19. Coax participation

To ensure effective participation, don’t dominate the discussion. Be positive about all inputs. Also, state that participation is paramount from all attendees.

Usually every meeting has few individuals who typically don’t speak up. To engage them in the decision-making processes, write few questions related to the meeting agenda on the board or in the group chat before attendees arrive.

Then ask each person has to write their answer on a Post-It note and place it next to each question – or submit it to the group chat in a numbered order. This process should be done before any discussion starts on the agenda to get everyone’s thoughts out in public.

20. A modern-day ‘talking stick’

Another way to increase participation is to have a small token, say a poker chip or a talking stick, given randomly to a person to speak.

After that person has shared his idea, he passes it to another person who has yet to receive the chip.

Randomization helps to keep the participants’ attention and everyone gets to speak.

A virtual talking stick can be made through the technology of the mute button – force everyone to mute their mics while someone else is talking. This allows the person speaking to talk without interruption. Then, by any unconventional method, take turns speaking by allowing each team member to talk individually before opening up the discussion to the entire remote team.

21. Get everyone on the same page – team solidarity

For important issues ask each participant’s thoughts and restate what has been implied by the whole group before jotting down the final decision.

You can use various online tools to jot down notes and then lets attendees add their own comments to these.

22. Keep an hourglass or timer

This is more fun if you can get an egg timer. Designate a timekeeper.

Agree how long will a topic be discussed and when the time is up, the timekeeper get to shout “Time!” which is the signal to move on to the next topic.

Imposed time constraints often boost creative output.

23. Keep it not-so-formal

Make sure that attendees know they may leave when the meeting turns to affairs not relevant to their roles in the company. Having them stay for irrelevant discussions is draining for them and damaging to your company’s productivity.

However, each member should leave in a way that doesn’t completely disturb the other members in the meeting. In an online chat, a simple typed message stating “heading out – talk to you all soon”, or slipping out of an office with a simple wave, is a great way to acknowledge your team without disrupting conversation.

24. Setting a particular meeting space

Be sure you not only know when the meeting is happening, but where.

Whether you are meeting in a board room, a café, or on a particular online communication software like Skype or Google Hangouts, be sure that you tell your attendees exactly where the meeting is being held.

This will eliminate any last-minute madness where attendees have arrived only to find no meeting room available. Also make sure that the meeting space suits the number of attendees and work to be accomplished.

You can use Google Calendar to choose a particular meeting room when you send out invitations.

25. Get the tech in place

Check whether the meeting room/ online platform accommodates all technology and equipment needed for a meeting. These technologies can range anywhere from whiteboards, markers, projectors, screens, to video calling equipment, screen-share applications, or somewhere in between.

Do a quick run-through and test everything out before the meeting begins, to avoid wasting time during the meeting.

26. Hold short meetings

Don’t set meetings that are longer than 20 or 50 minutes. The maximum amount of time that produces productive discussion on one topic is about an hour. Meetings that last for more than an hour, tend to be unproductive.

27. Hold stand-up meetings

For weekly (routine) sales/marketing updates try a 10-minute standing meeting. Everyone stands up for the duration of the meeting.

If you want to have brief meetings, try this technique. It also tends to get people physically moving which brings more energy to the meeting. Moreover, when people are standing they will get to the point faster.

28. End it on time

end meeting on time

When you start on time, you should ideally be able to end on time. If you have scheduled a meeting for 30 or 60 minutes, make it a habit to close it at the end of that time.

This is equally important to ensure that discussions don’t drag on forever and decisions are made. If people know the meeting is going to end at a specific time, it will drive better meeting behavior by all involved.

Quick announcements of the time remaining at regular intervals can also help maintain a proper meeting pace.

29. End it early

If all decisions have been made, please just go ahead end the meeting early. Let people get on to other things. Getting back to work is more productive than sitting in a conference room and chatting. Ending meetings early is also a sign of a systematic, effective and productive team.

30. Keep a Q&A session

Use the last 10 minutes of the meeting for quick Q&A. Initially, no one may have any questions, but be patient. If you wait a minute without trying to fill-in the awkward silence, usually some questions will come out. These questions always end up being very useful.

31. Boost concentration

Lastly, arrange for glucose-based drinks during your morning meetings or invite your remote team to sip their coffee or energy drink as they chat online. This increases concentration and willpower which is essential for effective discussions and decision making.

Engaged meetings lead to creative brainstorming sessions and productive decisions. While most employees dread morning meetings, innovative leaders can find ways to make meetings fun as well as productive.

Bonus activities:

If you prefer more team building to engage the team, Outback has some fantastic virtual team building activities and even virtual trivia games for teams.

virtual escape room

You can try the ultimate virtual escape room experience or the virtual happy hour trivia. These activities are so much and are guaranteed to engage the whole team.

If you are after a fast-paced game that will get your teammates going, try At The Races.

at the races activity

Divided into small teams, you will be betting, training and sabotaging horses to win the most money at the end of 6 races. Careful, it can get pretty hectic! (no real gambling involved)

Arsenal for good meetings

Tools can make a difference between boring meetings versus effective working sessions where good decisions get made, people are engaged and leave with a clear sense of purpose.

One interesting tool you can consider is Less Meeting. This is a paid online app with features like agenda setting, a countdown timer that prompts you to move on to the next topic as time becomes short, and a “parking lot,” where you can jot down topics that are worth discussing later.

Once you’ve built the agenda, you can send it, along with any other related files, to the people you need to attend your meeting in the invitation. It also has collaboration tools so that you can hold meetings with remote attendees. Less Meeting also connects with and syncs with Outlook and Google Apps.

Once the meeting is over, the app also gives you a concise list of action items, meeting minutes and notes, and more to send out to everyone who came. It will even get feedback on your meetings so the next ones are better.

Now that you know how to run meetings were the participants are engaged and active so that you get a productive output, it’s vital to ask yourself an important question:

Is this meeting necessary?

Many companies think they have to have meetings in order to be productive.

They fill their schedules with endless meetings – status meetings, strategy meetings, staff meetings, meetings about meetings.

Locking your employees in meetings all week long does not get more work done. Back-to-back meetings or too many meetings only end of making workers exhausted, frazzled, and frustrated.

Additionally, too many unnecessary meetings dilute the importance of those few meetings that are actually important!

Make sure meetings do not dominate your team members’ calendars.

Wondering if you should call that meeting? Think about these to get a quick answer:

  • If you can get the information you seek through a quick email or phone conversation with one or two people, then you need not call a group meeting.
  • If information needs to be disseminated, an office memo or email works better than calling 10 people to the conference room.
  • If you need opinion from a group of individuals, send a questionnaire before you arrange any meetings, where each respondent can provide their ideas. Individual opinions are sometimes more creative/ effective than group opinions.

Meetings are only effective when you require interaction and input from multiple people during brainstorming, problem solving, or decision-making processes.

Make it happen

Recently I met the CEO of a company which has implemented two unusual practices to ensure meetings start on time and end on time: Whoever comes in late for a meeting has to sing and if the meeting runs over the allotted time, the last person talking has to do 10 pushups.

The CEO said that both the policies have been so effective that they rarely get the opportunity to make anyone sing or do pushups these days!

Plan and execute your meetings with the right policies and they will truly be valuable and productive, rather than a complete waste of time. Try these morning meeting activities and your morning meetings can actually be something that your employees look forward to, rather than dread!

What other tips do you have for holding engaging morning meetings? Let me know in the comments below.

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