Sometimes it seems like everyone is talking about innovation, but you may have noticed that not everyone agrees on exactly how to “do innovation”. Some people think innovating is limited to a select group of highly creative geniuses who work alone, such as the Steve Jobs, George Washington Carver, and Marie Curie. Though there is no doubt these individuals have impacted the world with their work, most innovation is done by teams.
Teams at any company (not just big tech firms) can work together to innovate, whether it is disruptive or incremental, external or internal. At the center of this process lies the innovation meeting. Whether it’s in person or over a video call, what you do before, during, and after an innovation meeting is critical to the meeting’s success. By preparing and doing the right things, you can ensure it isn’t just another “this could have been an email” meeting – instead it will be the starting point for an innovation journey.
Before the Meeting
Define your goals
What is the objective for your team meeting? It is important to have a clear purpose. Will you be clearly defining a problem? Empathizing with your target consumer? Ideating and generating a long list of solutions? Planning an experiment to test an idea?
Think about what you want attendees thinking, saying, and doing after the meeting. Don’t forget to consider the information you want to collect throughout the meeting and how you plan to get it. If the meeting is being planned by a team, it’s important that everyone is on the same page about the objectives – this is the foundation of planning your experience.
Select the attendees
Innovation meetings are most successful when there are a limited number of people in the room. This makes it easier for everyone to have a voice and forms a sense of intimacy amongst the team. It is also easier to coordinate everyone and get them all on the call or in the room at the same time. When we run these sessions, we usually include only six to eight people. It may be tempting to include everyone who has anything to do with the chosen topic. Instead, seriously consider who must be involved and who could have good contributions, even if they’re not experienced in the topic.
Invite your selected group to the meeting and make sure that this is communicated as being optional. There are few things that can ruin an innovation meeting more than having a grumpy person who does not want to participate. At the same time, the individuals who want to participate must commit to being 100% focused on the meeting. It’s difficult to maintain productivity in a meeting if attendees are answering emails and messages in the middle of it.
Develop a conversation framework
When you sit down to plan your activity, don’t forget to factor in your objectives and any limitations (e.g. size of the room, if any attendees have a poor internet connection, etc.). Begin with the end in mind and create a conversation plan for getting those results. For example, say your goal is to innovate your business model by appealing to a new type of customer; you should begin by discussing your current business model, including your key customer segments and the company’s relationship with them. Once the team has a shared understanding of the current state, you can start considering the new group you want to engage.
Find or create visual tool(s)
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of visual tools available online that you can use for your team meeting. You can download our favorites on this very website! If in person, get these printed as large as you can and gather everyone around them. If you’re hosting a remote meeting, consider using tools such as Mural or Miro to get everyone working on the same canvas.
Think about the conversation framework you created and do some googling to find an existing tool or create your own! Use visual metaphors that relate to the conversational points you want to touch on – images like mountains, clouds, the sun, and pathways are commonly used visual metaphors to get you started.
Create a timed agenda
When you have a conversation framework and visual tools to guide the team through it, you should create an agenda for the meeting. Estimate how much time each tool will take the team to complete, but do not give them enough time to go off topic. For reference, when we host innovation meetings, we spend 15 to 45 minutes on each visual tool depending on the complexity. Don’t forget to include time for a short agenda and objectives review at the beginning of the meeting and time to explain each visual tool.
Gather the right supplies & set up
For an in-person meeting, an ideal room will have a large table that everyone can sit or stand around to work on your visual tool. A whiteboard is also very useful so you can keep track of the meeting agenda and any important pieces of information that everyone should know.
When it comes to supplies, sticky notes and fine-tip permanent markers are the name of the game. The great thing about sticky notes is that they can be easily moved around or replaced. There should be more than enough sticky note pads and markers for everyone so that everyone can write and participate in the session.
For remote meetings, preparation is even more vital. You need to make sure that everyone has access to the right software and knows how to use it. You really don’t want to spend half of the meeting helping people get into the platform and showing them the ropes. Double check with every attendee beforehand that they have everything set up and are comfortable with how it works.
Once you know that the tech won’t be a hindrance, it’s time to build our your meeting room. Particularly if you’re using a platform like Mural or Miro, you can set up all of the canvases and tools so they’re all ready to rock. Try to make sure that the tools are laid out in a way that makes sense. You want the conversation to easily flow from one tool to the next with as little a break as possible.
During the Meeting
Have a strong facilitator
One person, preferably someone involved in the planning of the innovation meeting, should act as the facilitator. This person should be deeply familiar with the conversation to be had and the visual tools. At the beginning of the meeting, they should reiterate the goals and objectives of the session. Then throughout the meeting, they will explain each tool to the attendees and make sure the team stays on task. It is also the facilitator’s role to drive pace and make sure the group sticks to the set agenda and timing. It may feel uncomfortably fast for the team, but the point is to drive them to action quickly.
The facilitator must also push people to be specific and, when it comes to developing a game plan for executing an innovation, realistic. If you see any wishy-washy terms like “marketing” or “education” or “technology”, point them out and encourage the team to write what they mean specifically and seriously consider the implications of these choices.
Establish rules and roles
It is important to set the scene for the meeting – this will not be anything like a typical information-sharing meeting where only one or two people talk and everyone else listens. For an innovation meeting to be successful, everyone needs to participate and be vocal. This means that everyone has the power of the pen. If you’re in the same room, participants should put away any phones or laptops. For a virtual meeting, ask attendees to keep the meeting front and center, and close any windows or tabs that might be a distraction.
Focus on the customer
During the whole conversation, the team should constantly remind themselves that the innovation they’re discussing must appeal to an end customer. Even if you’re discussing an internal innovation that the outside world will never see, you will have internal customers to appeal to, such as frontline staff whose work will change as a result or a board that has final approval on a change. Ask the team questions like,
- Is the innovation understandable and accessible to our customer?
- How does this make the customer’s life easier? How does this make the customer’s life harder?
- How will this provide value to the customer?
- Does this align with the customer’s journey?
- How could this innovation fail for our customer?
Walk away with action items
At the end of the meeting, ask the team what action items they need to complete to continue the progress made during the meeting. Push them to be specific about the timeline and who will get what done. Write this down somewhere prominent so that everyone is clear on what needs to be done and can hold each other accountable in the future. It may also be helpful to take notes of any new actions that the team has discussed during the meeting to spur this conversation later and ensure nothing is overlooked.
After the Meeting
Share the outputs with the team
If you have physical canvases, take photos of the visual tool(s) filled with the attendee’s ideas. Make sure all of the sticky notes are visible (not layered behind each other) in the photo and can be easily read.
If your team is using software to fill our the canvas, is even simpler. The vast majority of platforms allow for the workspace to be exported as a PDF or and image file.
If they’re not already one the canvas, be sure to type out anything important such as the agreed-on action items. Once you have everything gathered together, send all of these materials to the meeting attendees along with the next check-in date. If the team has a dedicated workspace, you can tape the visual tools onto the walls as a constant reminder of the future plan.
Hold the team accountable
Don’t let the energy of the innovation meeting wane over time. Schedule regular check-ins to verify that the team has made progress on the action items they agreed to during the meeting. Don’t forget to get the next team innovation meeting scheduled so you can continue to make progress and make change.
Would you like make sure your team is aligned and ready for the post-COVID-19 world? Let us help! We’re currently offering free 90 minute whiteboard sessions with absolutely no obligation. Hope to hear from you soon!