Recently I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting where the phrase “the illusion of control” was used. It made my stomach turn. 

This meeting was around a company’s “custom” software offering. The thing I discovered was the software couldn’t be customized, just configured. There were only a few ways their templates could be tweaked, and those were all pre-determined. If a customer’s needs didn’t jibe with what the company’s product would allow, they were out of luck. 

Because of this, the senior-most exec told his subordinates they had to give customers “the illusion of control” vs. allowing anything that would actually be true customization. And that’s when it hit me. If this was the company’s behavior towards its customers, could its treatment of employees be any different? Do the execs just nod their heads and pay lip service, knowing full well the company is going to do whatever it wants to do?

Collaboration begins with authenticity

This company missed an opportunity to be a partner to its clients — and likely isn’t one to its employees either. If its leadership had attended one of our workshops, they’d learn the value of genuine collaboration. It starts with respect, and a willingness to listen and absorb rather than firing back with a knee-jerk response. 

By giving employees a role in decision-making, the exec I mentioned could’ve helped his employees become more self-confident. And those with confidence help the larger team — and organization as a whole — succeed. 

To help you build this kind of inclusive culture, we created these meeting mantras. They are the holy grail we follow to ensure that our meetings and all attendees are getting the best (genuine) experience out of them:

No Purpose. No Meeting.

Part of respecting your team is ensuring every meeting has a clear purpose. Scheduling a discussion with only a vague objective in mind wastes time and money. It can also torpedo your team’s morale. Show you value their time by creating an agenda that’ll keep everyone focused on specific outcomes. People appreciate having goals they can work towards, whether that’s coming up with fresh ideas or helping refine existing ones. 

Foster Emotional Safety.

When you do have meetings, you’ll want to create an environment where everyone feels they can speak freely. A great way to encourage inclusivity is to allocate a portion of each meeting to the sharing of everyone’s ideas. Be mindful about cutting off over-sharers so the chronically quiet will have a chance to speak up, too. Studies have shown that this kind of inclusiveness can accelerate the speed at which sound business decisions are reached, so it’s not just a wise practice from a team-building perspective. 

Capture Room Intelligence.

I’ve always felt that many minds are greater than one when it comes to collaborating and solving problems. That’s the idea behind room intelligence: no single person is smarter than any other person in the meeting. To ensure the collective intellect is properly leveraged, you’ll want a designated facilitator on hand to guide the group through its discussion and any structured activities. This person, or someone who’s been deputized, should also be capturing everything discussed for future reference. 

See all 10 of our meeting mantras here.

Keeping things on track

Creating a culture of true collaboration can be tough. As a leader, it’ll be up to you to encourage honesty and promote comradery. When you’re effective at this, you’ll see your team develop new ideas and innovative solutions. To keep you from slipping back into old routines, here are three practices you should embrace:

1. Have 1:1 discussions.

When someone feels like they weren’t heard or thinks someone else has too much influence, it’s important to talk it out one-on-one. Committing to having an open-door policy that lets you take a temperature with your team may help you uncover some interpersonal dynamics you weren’t aware of. This will help maintain a team environment that’s harmonious and focused on thriving together.

2. Agree to disagree and commit.

Productive meetings require decisions to be made. In addition to having a facilitator drive progress, you’ll also want to have a preselected decider. Ideally, this should be someone who’s qualified to make the call on how to move forward, either due to relevant experience or professional responsibilities. 

Keep in mind that achieving consensus doesn’t mean total and complete agreement. The philosophy behind disagree and commit, which is practiced by Amazon and Intel, is that it’s acceptable for people to disagree while decisions are being made. Once a decision has been made, however, the team needs to 100% agree to support it. It’s OK that not everyone buys in so long as the dissenters can commit to moving forward as a team.

3. Give everyone a say.

To minimize the divergence I mentioned above, I suggest your team use our Improv Vision Mood Board for online collaboration tools like Mural. Unlike a traditional mood board that’s merely cool visuals, our template will help everyone get aligned through visual and written exercises. 

Improv Vision Board


Get Our Improv Vision Board

Use this template when your team is in need of a collective, inspiring vision for a project, product, or culture.

First, you’ll ask each team member to share two images. Then everyone will follow this up by placing sticky notes with their thoughts on what the collective vision makes possible — and what emotions the images evoke. After individual voting on these stickies, your team will then move on to crafting a unifying vision statement. 

Improvising a vision this way can spare you going through a long, protracted process. Too often teams focus on mission statements that capture the purpose of an entire enterprise when teams often just need something that can help them tap into creative potential and inspire action.

Trust your team — and the process

Fighting “fake” collaboration begins with valuing people’s thoughts, feelings, and time. Genuine collaboration really comes down to trust. Trust that colleagues and employees can help you make better decisions — and that you have an actual interest in hearing what’s on their minds. When this has been achieved, you’ll be surprised by the staggering business impact it’ll have. It’ll save time, save money and keep teams on task and ahead of schedule.

Magical Meetings Quick Start Guide


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Create and run magical meetings with our bite-sized guide, based on the full guide Magical Meetings: Reinvent How Your Team Works Together

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