Welcome to the Monday morning staff meeting - time to get your marching orders, get on the same page, get off to a running start. You know the drill: Show up, sit down, tune out. Not if you happen to show up at Jeff Taylor's Monday Morning Unplugged session. The 37-year-old founder of the Monster Board, one of the Web's leading career hubs, has designed an energizing wakeup call for his team. This substitute for the regular meeting of his group (which develops online-recruiting properties for its parent company, TMP Worldwide) features Tinker Toys, a little storytelling, a lot of learning - and no agenda. "Because we can sometimes take ourselves too seriously," says Taylor, "I spring this meeting on the team every month or so. This meeting allows for a moment of foolishness in a high-pressure environment." But it's not all fun and games. "The beauty of this playtime," says Taylor, "is that everyone takes a risk, and everyone learns something."
Creative risk taking. "The point is for people to take risks in a competitive but positive environment. People get a little nervous, and their adrenaline starts flowing - both of which are prerequisites to learning."
Fun and games. "We play games because they're a fun way to generate insights into real business issues. One activity we do is the object-oriented chain story. I bring in some items from my house - a fishing pole, a book, one of my son's toys - and we build a story around them. After 10 minutes, everyone's cracking up with laughter."
Low tech, by design.
"First we throw out the agenda. That can wait a week. Then I present the rules of the game. With the chain story, I put 8 to 10 household objects on the table and pick a volunteer, who starts by telling a story about one of the objects. We continue around the table, with each person picking a different object. Everyone gets 60 seconds to push the creative envelope. At the same time, people start listening to one another. With the Tinker Toy game, we split the group into two teams and put them in separate rooms. The first team builds a Tinker Toy sculpture, and the other team must replicate it - solely on the basis of a verbal description relayed from a representative of team one to a representative of team two. We see how easily communication breaks down, how frustrating it is when a message gets garbled, and what a product looks like when that happens."
Cathy Olofson firstname.lastname@example.org is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
A version of this article appeared in the August 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.