Design Meetings That Reinforce Your Culture


There is often a disconnect between what we say we value and how we actually behave. It’s true for us as individuals and as organizations. We have a vision that we’re reaching for, but the current reality isn’t quite there yet. We see this play out regularly in meetings. If you haven’t yet read the previous two articles in this series, you may want to start by learning how your meetings reflect your organizational culture and how the 6 elements of culture show up in your meetings. When it comes to eliminating this disconnect, the key question to ask is, “how might we align our meeting practices to support our desired culture?”


The conference organizers at Culture First Tour brought the same question to us late last year, leading us to design an interactive workshop on this topic. More than 100 participants learned about the relationship between culture and meetings and generated ideas for how to better live their organizational or team values in their meetings. We’re excited to share our design approach and learnings to help you facilitate this process with your own team.


1. Establish shared understanding of the relationship between culture and meetings.


Before you start brainstorming better meeting behaviors or introduce new practices , make sure everyone on your team is aware of how meeting practices can support or sabotage organizational culture. Share this article What Your Meetings Say About Your Organizational Culture with your team if you haven’t yet. Use the examples in the article to set the stage: If a company has “transparency” as a core value, how does it show up in meetings? What meeting behaviors may support this cultural value? What behaviors may derail it? Feel free to replace “transparency” with other values your team or company holds.


2. Clarify your team or organization’s desired cultural values.


If your organization has identified core cultural values, that’s great! Use them as a springboard for your conversation. Include short description for each value, so everyone has a better understanding of what that value means. For example, Meeteor has a value of “curiosity”, which we defines as:


“We pose questions, experiment, seek information and learn from our customers, competitors and colleagues. We use what we learn to help improve ourselves and the business. We connect dots to unearth insights and make meaning together.”

If your organization has not explicitly stated its cultural values, get inspired by the following list of cultural values from prestige companies like Zappos, IDEO, etc.

  • Shared Accountability: We hold each other accountable for individual and team results. We support each other to contribute our best work.Embrace and Drive Change: We see change as opportunity for growth, not threats.

  • Empowerment and Autonomy: We trust each other to make the best judgment.

  • Transparency: We trust each other with information and keep each other informed.Results Driven: We focus on outcomes and we are united by a drive for success.

  • Joy and Delight: We seek to delight our customers and colleagues. We recognize that small details matter. We enjoy humor and have fun while moving our work forward.

  • Learning: We engage in rapid experiments, learn from failure, iterate their approach and seek continuous improvement.

  • Risk-taking: We take bold, intentional risks, encourage experimentation, and embrace failure as a learning opportunity.

  • Caring and Compassion: We treat each other with warmth and respect. We care about each other’s well-being.

  • Candor and Honest Feedback: We give each other candid and constructive feedback with the intent to help each other grow and become better versions of ourselves.

To get more inspiration, visit Culture Codes to view a collection of core values from organizations like Netflix, Spotify, NASA, etc.


3. Frame it as a design challenge.


Instead of emphasizing what’s not working in certain meetings and how some behaviors sabotage your culture, try approaching this exercise with a positive frame of mind. Consider it a design challenge to answer the question, “What are some meeting behaviors or practices that will support our cultural value of _______?”


It might be challenging to generate ideas initially, so consider sharing some frameworks to guide the brainstorming process. For example:

  • Think of practices for each stage in the meeting cycle: before, during, after.

  • Come up with ideas for each of the six elements of culture: routines, rituals, language, habits, symbols, norms.

  • Consider how you use alternatives to meetings, eg: online chats, collaborative documents, etc.

  • Reflect on what practices are specific to your work context, eg: virtual meetings, status update meetings, one-on-one meetings.

Once your team has a solid understanding of the design challenges and the brainstorming framework, spend some time brainstorming and design meetings that reinforce your culture. No matter if you have 5 people on your team, or you’d like to run this exercise with 100+ people at a company retreat, you can do it. Have people work in small groups, generating ideas for one value at at time. Use whatever brainstorming techniques work best for your environment.  If your team wants more examples, download this worksheet to help them better connect meeting practices with desired cultural values.


Example: Meeting Practices that support the cultural value of “Learning through Risk-taking”

  • Ask challenging questions to encourage discussion.

  • Proactively offer to take notes if no one is taking it.

  • Challenge the consensus or norm directly.

  • Declining invite when you feel you don’t need to attend (let the facilitator know).

  • Everyone in the meeting must speak at least once.

  • Share mistakes or failures that you made and the lessons you learned to encourage risks-taking.

  • Come prepared with a question or topic you want to learn more about before meeting.

  • Ask “Did we meet the minimum level of risk?” in meetings.

  • Ask “What do we expect to learn by taking this risk?”Ask “How might we” questions.

At the end of the session, you may have collectively generated dozens if not hundreds of new ideas. Make sure all the ideas are captured and organized so they can be easily shared and stored for future reference.


4. Prioritize new practices.


It can be overwhelming when there are so many new ideas worth trying. Like all transformation processes, it’s important to start small. We recommend you select no more than 3 new practices. Ask the team to review the list of ideas and vote for the ones that they want to with start first. Be clear about the decision-making criteria. Consider selecting practices that are:

  • Low-hanging fruit Some practices are easiest to implement than others or produce quick wins. What makes a practice easy or difficult can vary widely. Consider how many people need to adopt the new practice, how frequently the behavior is needed, how quickly the impact of the behavior will be felt, and if there are any related behaviors or competencies that may need to be in place to make the new practice work.

  • High impact Some practices and ideas support multiple cultural values, and these practices often result in higher impact or greater return on investment. In the workshop we ran at the Culture First Tour, among more than 100 culture champions, the most mentioned practice across cultural values was to define the outcome of the meeting and share the agenda in advance.

  • Most energizing or fun Some practices are more engaging, playful or build commitment. Pay attention to the excitement surrounding an idea. If people feel energized to try it, you may be best off going with the momentum.


5. Approach implementation as experimenting.

Once you’ve selected the first few practices, start experimenting. and running these meetings that reinforce your culture. Don’t worry too much about making these practices a mandate or policy just yet. Often times, it takes a few iterations to find the right practice that works for your team. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to hold people accountable to the new behaviors. It’s important people take the new practices seriously and behavior change won’t happen overnight. That’s why we dedicated a chapter in our book Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings to the topic of how to get buy-in and sustain the change impact.


Use opportunities to check with individuals and the team about how the new practices are going to help reinforce adoption and determine if it’s time to try something else.


Then, once your team has incorporated the new practice or behavior as part of how they run meetings, it’s time to introduce a new one for experimentation. You can either go back to the prioritized list and take the next item or ask the group to vote again.


Begin with a strong start and run meetings that reinforce your culture.


This design exercise will generate awareness of the need for new meeting practices, develop buy-in to make change, and surface new and exciting ideas about what changes to implement. To help you bring this workshop to your organization, download the detailed session agenda and worksheet. If you have any questions or want to explore having Meeteor facilitate this type of activity with your organization, contact us at info@meeteor.com.

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