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I used to love meeting. During my corporate days, there were management meetings, team meetings, client meetings, training meetings, etc. It was the best. You know why? Because most of our time was spent sitting around talking, drinking coffee and trying to figure out how we could improve our metrics. Do you know how many good ideas came out of those meetings? About three. So why do we have meetings? Well, we have meetings because that’s what people do in business, right? I once worked for a consulting firm that spent a couple of hundred dollars on business lunches with me, the end result of which was that we decided what kind of phone I was going to get. As you can imagine, this is not productive. But how do you break the cycle?

Well, if you’re lucky enough to be the one making decisions, call together all your people, sit around a table and drink coffee while you try to figure out a better way. Wait, doesn’t that sound familiar. You see, even when trying to break the cycle, become more productive or create a new “culture” (ugghhh, buzzwords) for our organization, we always come back to the same thing. Let’s have a meeting about it. Instead, let me tell you about the Red Wizard.

The Red Wizard is a meeting “game” that I learned about from Aaron Dignan. Dignan is a founding partner of the digital strategy firm Undercurrent. He spends his time teaching  fortune 500 companies how to get over their fear of technology and how to let games and play be a part of their daily routine. Basically, he makes work fun and productive at the same time. The Red Wizard is a game about meetings. Meetings, for a long time have been considered to be one hour long and have everyone that is a part of the team involved. However, we’ve all sat in on a meeting where we spent the whole time thinking, “why the hell am I here” or “this meeting should have been over 20 minutes ago”. Well, Dignan takes care of that.

Each “manager” is given tokens. Each token is worth 15 minutes of a single employees time. If the manager wants to meet with their staff, they must give out enough tokens for the right number of people and for the right amount of time. Don’t have any tokens left for the week? Too bad. You should have planned better. Now, that part is pretty straight forward. Of course it involves a lot of planning to figure out how many tokens is fair to start off with but the key is, don’t give out too many. And tokens can’t be carried over into the following week. Make it hard. It’s not supposed to be easy.

Enter the Red Wizard. Employees typically have no input or influence on when, how or how long a meeting should be. They just get told they have to be there. But in this “game”, each employee is also given a Red Wizard which allows them to walk out of any meeting. They’re given one a month instead of one a week and they can’t be carried over either. What’s the point of this? Well, when you’re sitting in the back of the room trying to figure out why you’re at a particular meeting, the best case scenario is that you should be there but you don’t know why, thus making your presence a waste. More likely, you’re right. You shouldn’t be there. So, play your Red Wizard and leave.

Now let’s not go crazy. The Red Wizard can be a lot of fun and highly effective, but say you want to maintain some of the trappings of a traditional business look. What then? Well, here’s some basic rules that will help you manage meetings better.

  1. Have an agenda. Circulate the agenda in advance. Stick to the agenda. If someone is in the meeting without some means of taking notes, give them a pen and a piece of paper. 
  2. If someone has a question and someone is in the midst of talking, it can wait. Don’t raise your hand. Don’t interrupt. Write it down on your handy dandy piece of paper. Every speaker should give a chance for questions when they are finished. 
  3. Don’t use meetings for information. They’re for discussion/decisions. If you’re not giving a piece of information that requires discussion or a decision/vote, you could have emailed it. 
  4. Cut everything in half. If you’re thinking about having an hour long meeting with 8 people, don’t. Think honestly about who needs to be there an why. I bet you that most times you could get away with 4 people and 30 minutes. 

How much money are you making when you’re meeting? Think about it.