Sometimes, meetings are actually fun. The fun ones are almost always informal,
frequently creative and usually surprisingly productive. There's no way to guarantee
that a particular meeting will in fact be fun. But there are ways to set the
stage just in case. The three strategies I've used time and time again?
Toys, food and games.
Toys are the first and easiest to implement. A good meeting toy is like
a rosary or a set of worry beads. It gives the individual a way to relieve tension,
engage the senses and play. Since rosaries and worry beads have unworldly connotations,
the next best thing is Silly Putty.
Yes, the same Silly Putty that has been around for 30 years. The clay-like
stuff that bounces and stretches and picks up ink. Of course, now you can get
Silly Putty in glow-in-the-dark colors but it still feels like putty. And it's
still something that is clearly silly.
Or try Koosh Balls, in particular the new version made of rubber band-like
loops that you can stretch and twirl and whirl. Like Silly Putty, Koosh balls
keep the hands busy and the mind free.
Then there are magnetic marbles, which can lead to an infinite number of experimental
And of course, Tinker Toys! Give everyone a few pieces and encourage collaborative
There's a second strategy for having fun in the meeting room brain
food, mind candy, conceptual chewies. What are some favorites of mine and those
I've worked with?
||Pizza (says "fun," says "work")
||Chocolate Kisses (another objective correlative)
||M&Ms (have an untapped play value)
||Veggies and dips (healthy, crunchy)
The third strategy is the riskiest, most fun, energizing and unifying
games. There's one game in particular that's remarkably well-suited to meeting
rooms. Even if it's played every time a meeting starts, it still remains fun
time after time. Any number of players can participate, even late-comers to
the meeting. It's called "Numbers" and here's how it works
Everyone sits in a circle and is assigned a number beginning, naturally, with
me. I'm Number One, person Number Two is to my right, person Number Three is
to the right of Number Two, etc. Once everyone is assigned a number, I, as Number
One, get to start the round. All I do is call a random number and the
only thing the person who's that number does is call another number. And that's
how you play the game.
Simple? Well, almost.
You see, if someone actually does make a mistake, that person goes to the end
of the circle (to my left) and takes the last number. And, just as logically,
everyone who had a lower number has to move up one number. All those people,
therefore, have a new number and are even more likely to make a mistake.
As the game continues, it becomes more important for each person to respond
pretty much immediately. And this gives people yet another opportunity to make
mistakes, change seats, switch numbers and simply get even more confused.
The game also works well for latecomers. When new participants join the meeting,
they must take their position at the end of the sequence. Since people rarely
call the last number (what's the point?) they arent really challenged
to say or remember anything until someone makes a mistake. And, by that time,
they pretty much understand what the game's all about.
The object, if there is one, is to become Number One since hes the one
who starts the round. The lower your number is then, the greater the challenge
because your number gets called more often.
The game stops being fun if nobody makes a mistake. Then, you must make it
harder. Begin by decreasing the delay tolerance, for example, especially once
a mistake is made and people must change their numbers. My friend Charles Parsons
has his own variation: "suppose the mistake-maker's number is removed
from the game. For example, in a game with ten players, Number Six makes a mistake
and now becomes Number Eleven. So theres no longer a Number Six and everyone
must remember this!"
Or, if you have a multilingual group, play it in, for example, Dutch.
Another game I like to play in meetings is called Thumper. Its very much
like Numbers and is actually often employed as a drinking game. Instead of using
numbers, each player has a unique gesture. Go around the circle and give participants
the opportunity to create a physical gesture such as batting their eyes, sticking
out their tongues, shrugging their shoulders or pointing their fingers. Have
everyone repeat each player's gesture in a genuine, but futile attempt to memorize
The game proceeds the same as in Numbers. Player Number One starts by making
someone else's gesture. That player must then, in the minimal reasonable time,
make another player's gesture. And so on, and so on.
To really generate some fun in the meeting room, try playing both Numbers and
Thumper at the same time
well, you can at least try.
Toys, Food, Games
What really makes a meeting fun? Productivity. Games are a great way to start
a meeting, get everyone on an equal footing, tune-up the group mind and energize
the body. They can help release stress and exercise our abilities to listen
and respond intelligently. They can bring cross-functions, cross-disciplines
and cross-purposes together in laughter.
But ultimately, what makes a meeting fun is its contribution to the success
of the organization and the team, as well as the individualized and actualized
success of the participants.
About Bernie DeKoven
has spent more than thirty years developing new games and technologies for collaboration.
As Dr. Fun/Staff Designer with Mattel Media, Bernie helped create the team
and the products that helped Mattel earn $200 million in the first year. He
also established an entirely new category of software, games for girls. He originated
new game concepts, facilitated creative brainstorming meetings and worked with
the entire staff to generate more fun at work.
Through Technography.com (http://www.technography.com), a consulting,
training and publishing effort focused on improving the productivity and effectiveness
of collaborative meetings, he published Deep Fun (http://www.deepfun.com), a book that business
author Tom Peters has called "an ingenious blueprint for a communication
and networking revolution." He also developed and produced the Meeting
Meeter, a software taxi
meter for meetings, which got the attention of Business Week, Fortune, the
Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Working Woman, US News and World Reports,
NPR's Marketplace, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and
the San Francisco Examiner.
His Interplay Curriculum, a comprehensive program in self-esteem and
social skills based on over 1000 children's games, is used in classrooms and
playgrounds throughout the city of Philadelphia. For the Philadelphia Bicentennial,
he designed and orchestrated Play Day on the Parkway, a community games
event involving hundreds of thousands of celebrantors. His book, The Well
Played Game (Doubleday, 1978), voiced a philosophy of "healthy competition"
that formed the core teachings of the New Games Foundation.