Human Centered Practices to bring to your next team meeting (Webinar Recap)

Meetings ?. They can be hard sometimes: inefficient, confusing, never-ending. So how do we make meetings better? Sometimes all you need are open ears, a passion for collaboration, and a willingness to embrace creativity. Oh, and don’t forget the stickies.

On September 18th, 2019 we had the privilege of teaming up with Vanessa Shaw, Founder of Human Side of Tech, Gary Ware. Founder of Breakthrough Play, and Pam Do, Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Betterment for a webinar on Human Centered Practices to bring to your next team meeting. Together, along with the help of our moderator (Huge’s Director of Learning and Development Andre Plaut), we unpacked readily applicable strategies across a rich collection of disciplines: from co-learning, to design thinking, to improvisation. Below are some key takeaways from the experience, you can also watch the full recording HERE.

#1 The Collaborative Approach

Human Centered practices aren’t just about knowing the needs of your colleagues or your clients, they’re about including them in the process, whether that’s creating a product or setting expectations for your next meeting. To illustrate this, Vanessa shared a story about an HR exec at a large company who’d been tasked with creating a new hiring strategy. After working cross-functionally with recruiters and the executive team and getting buy in from all players, things got dicey when the strategy was put into play and it took the team 180 days to fill an important vacancy. Finger pointing ensued as various players searched for pain points in isolation, and it wasn’t until that same exec brought everyone together for a collaborative meeting that any progress was made. Using stickies to map the two prospective hires’ journeys through the approval process, all participants were able to see a wholistic depiction of what went wrong and empowered to take ownership over various pain points that had been experienced. As Vanessa explains “it wasn’t HR’s fault, and it wasn’t HR’s problem to fix, but in the end they were excited that HR brought them all together to solve a problem differently and collaboratively, and she (the exec) helped facilitate that process.”

For Your Next Team Meeting: Begin a meeting by learning the needs and desires of its participants. Give everyone five sticky notes, and ask them to put down the five things they want to cover during the meeting, or the five needs they want the meeting to meet. Ask everyone to lay them out, and bucket them according to themes. Often you’ll find everyone wanted one specific thing, so you can allocate more time to that and spend more time on that first. 

#2 The Opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression

Here’s an idea: make meetings more fun, and maybe people won’t dread them so much. That sounds simple enough, but throw a term like “play” into a conversation about meetings and you’ll likely get some raised eyebrows. So, why play? “I get this question all the time” says Gary Ware, “a common sentiment is ‘we have to work, we don’t have time for play.'”

But play can be instrumental in stoking creativity, encouraging collaboration, and creating a sense of psychological safety between employees. This sense of safety allows people to be open about their opinions, to be vulnerable, and even to admit mistakes. And what’s more, all these outcomes have been linked to higher levels of employee performance (see Google’s Project Aristotle).

For Your Next Team Meeting: play a game to kick things off. Try having everyone in the meeting tell a story by each contributing one word. Note: this can work for remote teams too.

#3 Build a Learning Culture

Pamela Do has been dedicated to creating a workplace that leveraged the skills and experience of its employees to create a culture that celebrates sharing knowledge through peer to peer learning. At Betterment, they created a program called “Better-Talks:” a peer to peer learning program created with a design thinking approach. According to Pam the main focus was having a company and culture where people could learn from each other, grow, and have the best professional experience of their lives.” They also made sure to include their fellow employees in constructing the program itself: “We talked to employees of all different levels and tenures, asking them what they wanted to learn or teach and wether they had skills they wanted to share, and use those insights to help build the program. We had member of the sign team brand it and create a logo and this created a sense of ownership in building the program. It was great because once it launched, they could be champions in transmitting that culture of learning.

For Your Next Team Meeting: be intentional with who you invite; try bringing in someone who has been removed from the meeting topic (ex: if it’s a marketing meeting, bring in someone from engineering and have them play devil’s advocate. There’s so much you can learn from having a different perspective or angle on things.

#4 Additional Resources

Check out the following resources that were cited by panelists as being influential in developing their processes for better meetings, and better workplaces all around:

Power Questions

Gaming Can Make a Better World

Project Aristotle

Applied Empathy

Where Joy Hides and How to Find It


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