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Hit The Ground Running

How 12 Companies Make Meetings Memorable, Effective, and Short

Coloring to focus, singing if you show up late, paying $5 if you run long: These companies have creative ways to make meetings less painful.

[Photo: Flickr user Steven Depolo]

It’s no secret a lot of us hate meetings. According to the National Statistics Council, 37% of employee time is spent in meetings, and 47% of employees consider too many meetings to be the biggest waste of time during the day–-more than social media or email.

Some innovative leaders have found ways to make meetings a little more bearable as well as productive. Take a look at what these 12 companies do to boost the effectiveness of the dreaded meeting.

They Make Them Memorable

Employees of TINYpulse, an employee engagement software provider, rarely forget a meeting because the company starts them at an odd time. The company’s daily staff meeting, for example, starts at 8:48 a.m.

"It's eliminated tardiness almost completely," says communications manager Neal McNamara. "It's strange, but at 8:48, everyone in our office seems to rise simultaneously and move toward our meeting area. There's definitely a Pavlovian aspect to the odd meeting time."

Every Thursday, baby food manufacturer Plum Organics gets out coloring books and holds a creative-thinking meeting where staff members color, talk, and decompress. Innovation director Jen Brush says the hour has been extremely important to the company’s new product development.

Photo: Flickr user Peter Lindberg

"It’s proven that coloring during a meeting helps promote active listening, and is more beneficial than multitasking on something like email," she says.

At chat software provider LivePerson, leaders decided that meetings were a good opportunity for staff members to get to know each other better. Using a technique called "connection before content," the leader poses a question at the start of a meeting designed to get people out of their comfort zones. For example, "What are your doubts about something you're working on?" The exercise has been so effective that the company shared the idea with its customers.

Josh Neblett, cofounder and CEO of the e-commerce company Etailz, uses the last 10 minutes of his company meetings for Q&A. If no one has a question, the remaining time turns into a stare-off.

"All managers claim they have an open-door policy; my experience is that sounds good and may make you feel good about yourself, but unless you engage employees, the reality is the vast majority are not going to take advantage," says Neblett. "This mindset is true in group settings, as well. If no one has questions initially, I'll just look around and stare at people awkwardly until the first couple of questions come out. The questions always end up being useful and universally applicable, but sometimes it takes a couple minutes for the dam to break."

True to their culture, employees at mobile game publisher Genera Games hold their meetings on the basketball court, shooting hoops and playing a quick game.

Photo: Flickr user Duncan Miller

"We try to keep our meeting focused and fun," says Daniel Entrenas, Genera's indie labs manager. "By getting the blood flowing, we also allow ourselves to think outside the box and get more creative with our ideas."

They Make Them Effective

Brivo, a security management software provider, keeps meetings on point with its "No Rehash" rule. Employees signal to others that a topic has already been addressed by raising the "No Rehash" Ping-Pong paddle.

"I started noticing that we kept making many of the same decisions over and over again," says president and CEO Steve Van Till, who instituted the rule by giving "No Rehash" paddles to everyone in the company. "It’s a visual reminder, but more importantly it empowers everyone in the company to call out counterproductive rehashing whenever and wherever they see it. The big time savings is that no one has to justify invoking the rule itself, and the meeting can proceed with earlier decisions intact."

At the Inquisium division of Cvent, employees are rarely late to meetings. That’s because Darrell Gehrt, vice president of the survey software provider, has an unusual punishment for anyone who wanders in after the start.

"There was a culture of coming to meetings 10-plus minutes late, which is both unproductive and disruptive," he says. "I implemented the policy of having to sing when you came in late. We’ve heard the national anthem, happy birthday, and nursery rhymes. The biggest downside is that it has been so effective, we rarely get the opportunity to make anyone sing these days."

During meetings at Keller-Williams Realty, anyone whose phone rings must make a donation to KW Cares, the company’s charitable foundation. Spokesman Darryl Frost says the policy cuts down on interruptions during meetings.

"When it happens, it supports our corporate nonprofit," he says. "It’s a win-win."

They Make Them Short

At O3 World, a digital design and product development agency, the conference room is hooked up to a technology the company created called Roombot. The app reads everyone's Google Calendar and warns meeting participants when it's time to wrap up. Roombot also controls the lighting in the room, dimming the bulbs in the final minutes of the meeting.

"Roombot creates more urgency and structure to the team's calendars," says Keith Scandone, partner/CEO. "Instead of having a line of people waiting outside a conference room, this is a fun way to remind people to wrap up their meeting and get ready for the next group of people to occupy the space."

The staff at Tripping.com, the search engine for vacation rentals, sets a stopwatch for 30 minutes at the beginning of each meeting to maximize everyone’s time. If the meeting goes longer, the person who called the meeting must throw $5 in the team beer jar.

Photo: Flickr user Peter

Founder and CEO Jen O'Neal says saving time is value-woven into the company's culture: "This makes our meetings more productive and our happy hours more fun," she says. "Total win-win."

Business development consulting firm Just Fearless also sets a time limit for meetings—usually 30 minutes. Founder Kisha Mays says if the meeting runs long, the chairs are removed and everyone must stand until the end.

"This keeps meetings from being drawn out and without a set purpose and agenda," says Mays. "Whether we're in the office or meeting in a public place, the rule still applies. My staff tends to stay on time because no one wants to stand—especially in a public place with those nearby seated and staring."

Buddytruk, a mobile app that connects users with people who have a truck, holds meetings every Friday morning to discuss a weekly recap. It, too, has a method for keeping meetings on time.

"If we run over, the last person talking has to do 50 pushups," says creative director C.J. Johnson. "At first it was just a funny gag. Now, it's turned into a great bonding experience."

Related: 7 Sure-Fire Ways To Get A Meeting With Anyone