how can we make our staff meetings less boring?

A reader writes:

My manager, who is the CIO and head of the IT department, recently asked me to help him redesign our departmental meetings to make them more meaningful and engaging to the staff. After the last meeting, he said to me “We’ve got to do something about these staff meetings. They’re so … dry.” I think he was trying to say “they’re so boring.”

I’ve tried asking other staff for suggestions and searching on the web for ideas, but I’m having trouble coming up with any ideas that would work.

We have a department of about 25 people, which is broken up into 6 different sub-departments. The CIO holds a department meeting regularly so that the sub-departments are all kept in the loop on what’s going on within the department as a whole, how we are all working towards one common goal, and the status of our different projects. Most of the staff agree that the meetings are a good idea, find them helpful, and want them to continue. But, everyone agrees that the meetings are boring.

The CIO and I have tried a few things to make these meetings more engaging, and less boring. We reduced the meeting frequency to every other month, and the meetings last just 1 hour (which I think is pretty great for a staff meeting). We also wanted to involve the other attendees in some way, and so we asked the sub-department leaders to give a quick 5 minute update on their most important achievement(s) since the last meeting.

I thought asking other people to speak would help engage everyone, and get people interested in what their peers were working on, but it didn’t seem to help at all!

And to make matters worse, our department (all IT folks) is not really social. We’re all friendly with each other, but I can tell that an ice-breaker type of activity would not go over well, plus we have people teleconferencing in from different locations. I’m beginning to think this is a lost cause. Do you have any ideas?

Are the meetings just for updates, not for discussion? If so, I’m betting that’s the problem.

Meetings aren’t a great forum for simply relaying information. Hauling everyone into a room to be talked at is going to be boring, unless these updates are extremely exciting and/or entertaining, and I’m guessing that they’re not.

Meetings are best suited for topics where you want to have back-and-forth discussion. If your purpose is just to share information with people — and it sounds like it is — it’s far more efficient to do that through an email or a memo.

So you might experiment with charging someone with compiling these updates into a department-wide email instead of presenting them in meeting form. Of course, then you might have the problem of some people not reading them — although if they’re kept concise, most people will.

But if that doesn’t work, then I think you’re going to have to resign yourself to the fact that this type of meeting is often just inherently not that exciting. I would not resort to ice-breakers or that kind of thing, because too many people hate them and they’re not the point of what you’re there to do.

If the info is truly important and it needs to be communicated in a meeting rather than in another form, you probably need to just accept that these meetings aren’t going to be hot events. And really, not everything at work needs to be. It’s okay to simply share the information that needs to be shared and move on; if you bend over backwards to find some artificial way to make it more interesting than it really is, you’ll waste time and probably annoy your less social staff members.

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