Maya Berstein is the founding co-director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership’s Certificate in Facilitation and is on faculty. Maya is the founding co-director of and an Associate at UpStart Lab, an incubator that supports innovation in nonprofit settings. She is an expert in Design Thinking, Adaptive Leadership, and Story-telling. She, likewise, has some wisdom in how we should run productive and innovative meetings.

Maya[1]  begins her Harvard Business Review article with an embarrassing estimated statistic that weekly 50-person meetings could cost a corporation around $177,000 annually because such routine gatherings “drain us and breed cynicism”.  Her article has more surprising statistics that leave a reader wondering about the value of meetings. If you want more on this, review two TED talk videos on this subject. Meetings are “deadly”.  Try David Grady (TED Talk: How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings) and/or Jason Fried (TED Talk: Why work doesn’t happen at work).

Relying on her experience with Design Thinking, Maya proposes that business meetings should involve in-depth preparations that offer enormous benefits for all stakeholders. Couched in Design Thinking format, preparations start with the development of empathy, assuring that participants buy into the meeting. Maya suggests interviewing anyone who will attend and why including those who will be affected by the meeting who don’t attend as well as the environmental culture that provides challenges and opportunities for the attendees.

Then, setting the frame of the meeting should follow with the purpose of the meeting and proposed outcomes that connect purpose to results by the outline of an agenda. This is vitally important for transparency, which is the foundation of trust in the company because it provides purpose and results as well as keeps everyone on task. Such a frame assures that the meeting is short and on target, rather than a distraction from genuine work and a waste of time.

Finally, there should be a tentative draft as a “test-drive” of a proposed meeting agenda, an early prototype given to attendees. Shared with participants, this could ensure buy-in, start empathic response, and foster insights and questions to provide creative engagement in the planned meeting.

There is no doubt that this is a radical approach to meeting preparation but it will forestall resistance and boredom in an unprepared meeting that could last too long for any productive outcome, let alone disengagement by those in attendance. Through early interviewing and prototyping of the agenda, there will be fruitful feedback, because engaged participants will experience worthwhile trust and purposeful investment in a meeting that is rewarded by success individually and company-wise.

At first, a preparation outlined here might seem tedious but, as such a plan moves forward, it becomes easier with probably fewer and shorter and more productive meetings. In the long haul, it will work as a benefit for more creative and innovative meetings.  Thumbs up for Design Thinking refreshing our meetings.


  1. Harvard Business Review, (2018); Plan a Better Meeting with Design Thinking, Feb.26, 2018, HBR.org

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