5 Neuroscience Tips for Creating Engaging, Productive Meetings

grove news grove workshops Sep 10, 2018


Authors: Dick and Emily Axelrod 


Editor’s Note: Recently The Grove’s Tiffany Forner worked with Dick and Emily Axelrod to create a visual template and Leader’s Guide for their meeting planning process, The Meeting Canoe, which they describe in their book, Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done. We thought the following tips in the Leader’s Guide were so fundamental to good meetings that we asked if we could share them, and the Axelrods generously agreed.


Your brain is constantly scanning for threats and rewards. When the threat response occurs, the innovative, collaborative parts of your brain shut down. When the reward response occurs, the innovative, collaborative parts of your brain light up.

Here are five ways you can support the reward state, to increase innovative collaborative behavior during meetings.


1. A clear agenda reduces threat.

Knowing what you are going to talk about, why, and for how long reduces participant anxiety by providing a road map for the experience. A clear agenda includes the meeting’s purpose, what you will talk about and desired outcomes.


2. Work to create a respectful atmosphere.

Companies like Google have found psychological safety to be the key component that determines group effectiveness. Respectful conversations where participants seek to understand differing viewpoints promote psychological safety. Simple acts like paraphrasing the previous comment before speaking build a psychologically safe environment, which in turn moves people to the reward state.


3. Insights occur when you let the brain go idle.

Solutions to tough problems often come after you’ve “slept on it”, during a shower, or while exercising. Breaks in the action allow insights to emerge. Start a two-hour meeting an hour before lunch and finish it after lunch. Break an all-day meeting into two half-day segments. Start the meeting in the afternoon and finish it the next morning. This allows soak time for insights to emerge.


4. The brain needs stimulation to perform.

A challenge rewards the brain. The challenge could be creating a new process, resolving a sticky problem, working with new people, or learning something new. The challenge should not be too easy because people won’t want to bother with it. The challenge should not be way beyond the skill level of the group because people will give up. The trick is to create challenges that stretch the group just beyond its current comfort zone, so people can rise to each challenge.


5. Encourage autonomy.

For many people, knowing their voice counts moves the brain toward the reward state. This means being able to have a say about decisions made and the direction the group is going. Supporting and encouraging people who take initiative during the meeting reinforces the reward state, which opens people up to increased cooperation and new ideas.



Workshop Opportunity: The Axelrods will be delivering a workshop at The Grove this November to debut their new visual template and Leader’s Guide for meeting planning.


Related Grove Services: Do you have a process that needs to be visualized or made into a template? Our design team can help. Email [email protected] or call +1.415.561.2500, ext. 2.


About the Authors: Dick & Emily Axelrod are co-founders of The Axelrod Group and the creators of the Conference Model®–a process for involving the “whole system” in creating organizational change. Their most recent book is Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done.

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