Meetings. Is there a way around them? Or a way to consistently get out of them? Sometimes we leave meetings feeling unproductive or unclear, yet we continue to hold them in the same format, location and so on. For better business results and creativity, it may be time to unlearn meetings, and foster a workplace where meetings don’t exist.


Meet Jessie Shternshus, Owner of The Improv Effect. An international speaker and facilitator, Jessie has worked with companies such as Crayola, GE, Macy’s, Transferwise, The PGA Tour, Capital One, Tyson Foods and Netflix to drive culture change, innovative ideas and team cohesiveness. She is co-author of the book CTRLShift: 50 Games For 50 ****ing Days Like Today, and working on a new read due out this spring: No More M**tings! Unlearn meetings to change the way we connect as individuals, teams and organizations.

As Jessie says, “We can't eliminate the need for people to gather, nor would we want to. Such gatherings are the basis of a group’s culture, and provide the humanity and the bonding to create a shared sense of purpose in an enterprise. We just think it can be done in a more engaging way. How do we do it? By giving new names and structures to all gatherings for all purposes. If you never again use the word meeting, you will have no more meetings. Boom! Done! Gone!”

Looking forward to her Effective Collaboration for Teams Workshop on November 6 in San Francisco, Jessie shares two exercises that teams can use to shake up meetings and achieve better results.

The Dreaded Meeting

How many times has this happened to you? Your team has been assigned to come up with a breakthrough idea, a never-before-rendered solution to a sticky problem. And then you find yourself in the Dreaded Conference Room—no windows, offering you a panoramic view of beige nothingness; an immovable conference table that sits between you and the other participants like a swamp full of alligators waiting to eat your energy; fluorescent lighting that sucks the Vitamin D directly out of your soul and a ventilation system that recirculates dusty air first breathed when the airlines allowed smoking.

Feeling boxed in? The most interesting thing in the room is the 1980’s carpet, for the amount of static electricity it can generate—one brush of your foot charges you with enough electricity to power a small town. Sound familiar? Too familiar? Being in a stuffy conference room doesn’t exactly scream breakthroughs. Ironically, we continue to have unrealistic expectations for creative outcomes at m**tings where the room is drabber than drab.

Time to take a walk.

GAME: Chalk Walk

Take your convocation to the streets! Grab a box of multi-colored sidewalk chalk and use the sidewalk or parking lot as your whiteboard. Use the space to share ideas, concerns and create something unique together. 

  1. Weather permitting, get your chalk and head outside.

  2. Pick a spot that can be observed from a window, and where there will be passersby who will wonder wtf you're up to.

  3. Do a group drawing activity as a warm-up. Off to the side of where you’ll be working, using one piece of chalk, each person in the group makes one mark on the sidewalk, the only rule being you cannot lift the chalk. Take turns, with each person adding a mark to the drawing—connecting with the previous marks, not consciously trying to make a “picture,” but, rather, connecting to see what picture emerges from the connections. Continue this until everyone has had three turns, or until a picture emerges, whichever happens first. Take a picture of your masterpiece to tape onto the refrigerator in the break room later. 

  4. Draw two large “whiteboard frames” and decorate them around the edges with designs like you’d see in a mosque, church, temple or psychedelic ad. This is sacramental work! One frame is for ideas, the other is for questions.

  5. Use the space to share ideas, concerns and create something unique/groundbreaking together. Every suggestion must be made with a max of three words. Be succinct!

  6. “Yes, and…” by asking questions of passersby or by people from work taking a break and getting their input. (“Yes, and…” is a basic improv rule where you accept what others say or do and add your own contributions.)

  7. Draw a third frame for “finders keepers” ideas.

    • 7A. Photo capture from window view—>into digital for further processing and eval.

  8. Play a game of hopscotch to celebrate.

  9. Clean up yer mess by pouring cans of LaCroix water over it. JK.



We have a friend who believed he had a great idea for making money. When the geography of Eastern Europe began re-arranging itself in the 1980’s–with the split of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the re-unification of Germany—he thought, “There’s a killing to be made by investing in a map company. The world will need new maps!” So he invested a ton of money in the Rand McNally Company.

Rand McWholly?

Exactly. He made his move at the precise time that maps were turning digital. All those maps, Thomas Guides and Yellow Pages were re-arranging themselves into different forms, too. 

That doesn’t mean cartography, the craft of mapmaking, has gone away. On the contrary. 

It’s just shifted into new forms. We can use cartography to shift the dreary geography of a m**ting into new forms. By playing with cartography, you can see your world in a different frame. Show the spatial concepts of your work at scale, and understand relationships between people and their roles in a whole new way.

Our friend? Don’t worry about him. He re-drew his own map, caught the digital media wave and made a fortune using new technology as a television producer. It is more important to map your world than to invest in a map of someone else’s.

GAME: Mappers Delight

Early forms of cartography were written on cave walls and shifted over time. The purpose has always stayed the same. It is a way to understand or frame the world around us. When the group gets together today, the discussion must be done by using a map as a visual (weather, population, political, topographic, road, Google, etc.).

Each person or team creates an individual map that best represents what they have been working on or an idea that they have. Everyone uses their map as a visual for the group to understand their world. Make sure people can understand each other’s hemispheres, the equator, true north and the roadways and rivers that indicate logistics, boundaries, crossings or productive paths. Mountains can indicate obstacles. Operational divisions can be different territories. Once you’ve completed your map, have fun naming the different representations. Make them vivid. That’s not just any old “mountain” to be climbed. That’s “Molehill Mountain,” which isn’t nearly as difficult to summit as it might appear. Don’t think generic “river,” think “Research River” with a “Database Delta” at its mouth.

To finish the quest, have everyone see if they can create a large-scale collaborative map that includes input from everyone’s map.

Making More of Meetings

What are some creative ways you’ve made your meetings more productive and collaborative? Share your strategies by commenting below.