A Magical Meeting Story from Founder and CEO of Lightshed, Taylor Cone
Welcome to Magical Meetings Stories, a series where I chat with professional facilitators, meeting practitioners, leaders, and CEOs across industries about their meeting culture. We dive deep into a specific magical meeting they’ve run, including their approach to facilitation design, and their tips and tricks for running meetings people thrive in.
Today’s story is with Taylor Cone, Founder & CEO of Lightshed – an innovation, leadership, and design firm specializing in accelerating product development through facilitated Design Sprints and coaching. Lightshed also offers collaboration design engagements to help teams work together most effectively, productively, and creatively. Taylor also co-founded Compa, a tool to make compensation fair and competitive for everyone. And he serves as the Director of Innovation Experience at Delve, a design and innovation consultancy.
Taylor’s other experience highlights include teaching and coaching at the Stanford d.school, receiving multiple patents for his engineering work, and guiding whitewater rafting trips across the Western U.S. for the last 10 years.
I spoke with Taylor about a meeting he designed called Collaboration Design Kickoff, the purpose of the meeting, what makes it possible, and why it’s so powerful.
“I think that one of the reasons that great meetings are great is that intention is brought, and how we work together is a big part of what we need to focus on.” -Taylor Cone
The Need for Intention
The Collaboration Design Kickoff meetings were originally prompted when Taylor noticed that people were not talking together or making decisions in productive ways during their regular meetings. He identified there was clearly a better way to do things. He created the Collaboration Design Kickoff with the focus to place intention on the role of collaboration design. The purpose of the meeting is “making collaboration design an explicit emphasis as opposed to just something we either don’t even think about, or just hope will magically happen.”
“I think that one of the reasons that great meetings are great is that intention is brought, and how we work together is a big part of what we need to focus on,” he further explained.
The Collaboration Design Kickoff meetings–originally designed for Taylor’s clients, which are often large teams at single companies–are relatively unique compared to our other Magical Meeting stories. These meetings take place prior to other meetings (or at the beginning), to understand how all participants want to intentionally work together during the meeting that follows. For example, this “pre-meeting” could be about determining and defining roles and responsibilities for the next meeting or identifying how each participant best works and learns in order to have the most productive meeting possible. This meeting can be applied to various meeting types – such as before a workshop, retrospective, Design Sprint, etc.
Let’s take a closer look at Taylor’s process to learn what makes these meetings magical.
At the beginning of the meeting, Taylor highlights the importance of laying a foundation of psychological safety–or the importance of creating an environment where everyone feels safe to share their thoughts freely. Introductions, warm-ups, and other activities help foster a level of connection so that everyone can be honest with each other. “If people aren’t honest about the things that they need or struggle within collaboration, then there’s no reason to have a meeting like this because you’re just not going to get where you need to go,” he explained.
The Logistics: These meeting sessions were held in person in the past, but are now held remotely on Zoom. The number of participants ranges from 10-25 people, with the sweet spot around 15 for Taylor’s purposes. In his experiences, everyone participating is on the same broader team but works together in a cross-functional capacity. Since the Collaboration Design Kickoff sessions can be held prior to various types of meetings, the cadence depends on the meeting following, but holding them at least once a month or once a quarter is a good benchmark.
Attendees: We discussed who should attend and Taylor highlighted that it’s more about the mindset of those in the room vs. their status: “The value is really in the mindset of the people in the room and less about who they are or what their roles and titles are and that they’re open to it, that they’re excited about it. A lot of times after a Sprint or a workshop, people are saying, ‘Where do we go from here? How do we keep this forward?’ I’ll say, ‘Follow the energy. Who in that session were most enthusiastic about what we were doing, the ideas, and the process? Find that person and have them move this thing forward.’ It doesn’t matter what role they’re in, it doesn’t matter whether it’s on their roadmap or not, have them do it because that’s where the energy is. I have that same philosophy a lot about who can be in the room, especially when it’s the first experience because that’s how many people are open to it, that is sort of innovators themselves, have that kind of archetype, that’s what’s going to make the meeting stick.”
Intention Setting: After the introductions and warm-up activities, the team begins with intention setting. An example of this is asking the participants and discussing “What’s one thing you want to walk away with at the end of our time together, and one thing that you will do to ensure that that happens?” Taylor explains the second part of the question is especially important, as it’s common to ask “What do you want to get out of this meeting?” but less common to discuss what will actually be done to make sure that happens. “I think that intention setting is really important and there’s some pretty interesting psychology on when we set intentions, when we agree to things, when we set norms or when we set expectations, we’re more likely to actually follow through on them, and so that’s woven in as well,” he says.
Discovery Work: The group then dives into what Taylor calls “discovery work.” This is the meat of the meeting and typically done in breakout groups of 3-5 participants – where everyone reflects and discusses with each other what each person wants and needs in collaboration, how they want to work together, and what they want outcomes to be. Next, Taylor explained that the groups feed that into a “definition ideation prototyping and test design of how do we implement some of these things that we’ve just said about how we want to work together, and how do we learn in a week, after we’ve tried it or in a month after we’ve tried it, and how do we course correct from there? Structurally it was very very much a plug-and-play design thinking process, just where the input was the team, as opposed to a product or service.” Then the breakout groups come back together in the full group to share out ideas and learnings and get feedback from everyone else. Having smaller breakout groups helps make sure that everyone can be heard.
Reflection and Refraction: Taylor likes to end the meetings with what he calls a “reflection and refraction.” The reflection involves each participant looking back at the session and discussing what the most influential, memorable, or transformative moment was for them. The refraction is looking ahead and thinking about how things can be different based on experience. “That nice one-two punch at the end of looking back and just recapping the experience we had, crystallizing that, but then also looking ahead and turning that into some sort of intention I found has been really powerful for participants, really helpful for me to see how those things sort of align,” Taylor said.
Roles and Responsibilities: Taylor says he tries to level everyone and have all participants show up in the same way. Sometimes there are assigned discussion leaders or facilitators, but he likes the idea of everyone being equal participants whenever possible.
Ground Rules: Expanding upon everyone being equal, Taylor also says one of the ground rules is that there’s no right or wrong answer: “It’s important that no person’s perspective or experience is any more or less true than anyone else’s, because we are all humans on this team, in this meeting. So, we all have our experiences, and being real about what those experiences are is just really freaking important. We obviously talk a lot about psychological safety these days as the foundation of creativity and trusting teams and productivity in many ways. I think that is even more foundational when you’re talking directly about the team itself and the collaboration itself.”
Outcomes and Deliverables
The main outcomes from holding a Collaboration Design Kickoff session are often defining the specific roles that people are going to play in the upcoming meeting, as well as building awareness of individual and group needs–both while in collaboration and in meetings. For example, it might be identified that one person is a visual thinker whereas someone else is a verbal thinker. Recognizing this upfront gives the group the opportunity to decide how to approach it. Deliverables will vary based on the meeting that will follow. One such example Taylor cited was a MURAL board with frameworks filled out that everyone could reference for themselves and each other. Regardless of what the deliverables are, the takeaway is that these roles, items, and ideas for the meeting are identified prior to it, resulting in more efficiency and productivity during the upcoming meeting itself.
There are a few tools Taylor uses to create magic and connection in his meeting:
- Zoom – Fosters connection using conversation, chats, and breakout sessions.
- MURAL – Digital workspace for virtual collaboration.
- Keynote or Google Slides – Presentation software applications.
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Reflecting on Collaboration Design Kickoffs
I asked Taylor what makes these meetings possible. He said having participants that are curious and open to trying something new, and who also might have felt there’s a better way to approach the meeting but haven’t tried yet. Laying the foundation groundwork upfront by having a Collaboration Design Kickoff session as a first step will most likely unlock better outcomes in any following meetings.
We also discussed what makes these meetings unique, what he’s most proud of, and any potential pitfalls or risks.
Taylor said the meeting is unique because “it shines a light on things that nobody talks about. It needs to be blunt and exaggerated. It gives an opportunity for people to talk about what they really want to talk about.” He said he’s most proud of taking the step to elevate collaboration design to the level it deserves and having clients and coworkers validate the need for it. “And I am proud that that happened and also that it has been successful so far and that people seem to see the value in it and seem to really be hungry for it,” he said. The potential pitfalls are surfacing things that are bigger or deeper than there’s time or scope for: “I think long-term, that’s probably a good thing, but it might put some things out there that could cause some short-term issues.”
We ended our conversation chatting about where Taylor sees the opportunity for this meeting and what he would do next if he were to be really bold. He says, “If I were really, really bold, I would probably just make this the one thing that I do. Just on a personal level, it would be the explicit singular focus of my business. I think from a more conceptual level, some of it is just going deeper. Bringing more of the coaching background and deepening the conversations around what’s really going on. And bringing talking about topics like nonviolent communication. How do we change the way we talk to each other at work? And I think just going deeper on the types of things we talk about and making it almost like a more comprehensive process.”
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