Jane manages a staff of 40 fitness instructors, who come together for monthly staff meetings. This month there’s a lot going on. The facility is kicking off a fundraiser, some new equipment is coming that Jane wants to tell everyone about, and she has several other updates. Yet the instructors don’t seem to share Jane’s excitement for the meeting. All they want to do is socialize. When she starts the meeting, several of them slouch lifelessly in their chairs.

If you have walked in Jane’s shoes, you are not alone. Of the countless meetings being held across our country every day, half are ill-designed and a waste of time and company resources. In his book Death by Meeting (Jossey-Bass 2004), Patrick Lencioni tells a workplace fable in which executives admit they would rather go to a dentist than attend a meeting. That means they would rather face a drill than an agenda! This article gives you tips on planning effective meetings and three specific activities for energizing your staff and getting them to consciously choose you instead of their dentist!

Pre-Meeting Steps

To be sure that your meetings run smoothly and your staff comes prepared, take some of these preliminary steps:

  • Decide how many meetings you need for the quarter or year. Unless you run a complex operation, remember that less is more. It’s better to have five excellent meetings each year rather than 10 repetitive ones.
  • If you want staff members to come prepared, send them their prep work and pay them an hour of their time to review it. This may involve a culture change if you’ve never done it before, but it makes meetings a lot more productive.
  • E-mail any announcements that do not need to take up meeting time. People hate to come to a meeting and hear something you could have sent them in an e-mail. Devote time for Q&A on e-mailed announcements only if really necessary.
  • Establish a brief agenda of items with time frames and stick to them.
  • Tell your staff what the objective is for every meeting; for example: “We are meeting this month to decide on . . .” People may come more mentally prepared than you think.
    Once you have determined that the staff meeting is a necessity, consider using one of the following three energizers based on the needs of your group. Below are ideas on networking, brainstorming and group learning.

Icebreaker Bingo

An icebreaker is always a great way to start the year and a good activity to include in a meeting with newly hired staff. Icebreaker Bingo can work with anywhere from 10 to 100 people. It takes about 10–20 minutes, depending on the size of the group. Create a bingo card with fun facts (see example below) that some of your staff can identify with. If you know something unique about someone, such as “has met the president,” add that to the card. Make enough copies for everyone to have one.

Directions to the Group

  • Take a card.
  • Find a person in the room who fits the description in the box, and mark the box by writing that person’s name on it.
  • Work the room and introduce yourself to each other. Your goal is to greet as many people as you can and eventually get a win (bingo!).

Depending on the size of your staff, you can follow the “no name repeats” rule and make people work for their bingo. When 3–4 bingos are announced, wrap it up.

Likes to ski Has three children Plays a musical instrument Is always prepared for an “emergency” First or only child
Has performed on stage Been with the organization 10+ years Native of the “Windy City” Survived an earthquake Has met someone famous
Played three or more sports in high school A
Was a team
captain of their college team
Can name the seven dwarfs Soccer mom
Rides a Harley Collects antiques A definite night owl Likes to tie flies Does volunteer work
Went to school in Europe Played a professional sport An avid swimmer Owns a Corvette Is the newest kid on the block

This activity gets people moving, mingling, and learning something about one another that they didn’t know. As the meeting facilitator, be sure to engage them as soon as they are done with the game. Questions to the whole group—such as, “Okay, who are all the chocoholics in this group?” and “What musical instruments can we draw from at the next holiday party?”—make for a fun transition into small-group discussions.
Now ask your staff to break into small groups of three or more, and pose these two questions for discussion:

  • What is the most interesting fact you learned about another staff member?
  • With whom do you have something in common that you didn’t know about before this icebreaker?

Give Me 21

There are times of the year when you want to ask everyone on your staff what they think about an issue. If you can afford the time in a group meeting, you may find that the talkative types overpower the quiet ones and not everyone’s opinion is heard. Give Me 21 is an excellent way to see what’s on people’s minds regarding an issue. Like Icebreaker Bingo, it can be played with 10–100 people. It will take you 15–20 minutes, depending on the discussion that develops at the end of the activity. I first learned about this from the world-renowned game designer Thiagi (aka Sivasailam Thiagarajan), whose website (www.thiagi.com) is packed with ideas related to adult learning and facilitation techniques. Say, for example, that you as the fitness manager want to start a discussion on teamwork. You’ll need one 4 x 6 index card per player and a flip chart or white board to write on.

Directions to the Group
On your index card, write down the one most important behavior a staff member must display in order to be a good team player.

Round 1
Turn over the card. Exchange cards with others in the room until you hear “stop” [which you as the meeting leader call out]. Read the card you’re holding, turn it over and rate the behavior on a scale of 1 (not a very important quality) to 7 (the most important quality). Write the number down.

Round 2
Repeat the process of round 1; when you hear stop [which you call out], read the card you’re holding, rate the behavior, turn the card over and record your rating (do not peak at the previous number).

Round 3
Same as rounds 1 and 2; this time, decide on the third score, record it, summarize all three scores and keep the card.

Final Step
You, the leader, record ideas with a score of 21–19; then 18–16; then 15–13, etc.
The ideas on the board represent what the group considers its priorities. Be sure to record all ideas. This process allows people not to “own” their ideas and lets the whole group prioritize them.

Here are two helpful debriefing questions to the group:

  1. What are the behaviors that best describe these top three teamwork qualities, in our workplace?
  2. If these teamwork qualities are important to us, what can we all do to keep them intact?

Give Me 21 can be used to brainstorm a variety of topics, such as unique ways to offer customer service; creative ways to communicate with members; and ways to deal with difficult class participants.

Study Tables

The fitness industry is always evolving, with new concepts and ideas making continuing education and professional development necessary. Sometimes it’s a good idea to learn something new or discuss a concept as a team. Study Tables is an exercise designed to help you do just that. You need a group of at least 12 and not more than 24. This activity takes longer, typically 30–60 minutes. You will need four or five separate packets with articles, book chapters, executive summaries and/or newsletters on the same theme. You will also need a flip chart or white board to write on.

For example, you may be reviewing information on the theme of time management for your personal trainers. Provide articles pertaining to client communication, policies and procedures (examples from your facility and others), time-management tips and tools, and specific tips relating to managing e-mail or phone calls.

Form teams of four, each gathered around a “home base” table. Brainstorm the top 5 time-management challenges for personal trainers. Then create four “study tables” (in the same room), each with articles relating to one of the informational topics mentioned above. Each of the four people from a home-base table must go to a different study table.

Directions to the Group

1. The Big Picture

Take 5 minutes to explain the big picture and answer questions:

  • You will spend about 20-30 minutes studying at one of the four study tables. You’ll review the material, and take notes on what’s relevant.
  • You’ll then come back to your home-base table and brainstorm a list of time management guidelines.

2. Study Table Groups

When the study table groups are formed, post these questions on the board:

  • What speaks to you about this material?
  • What’s new for you?
  • How will you explain the information to your home-base team when you get back?

Allow the study table groups 10 minutes to review the material and 10 minutes to have a discussion.

3. Home-Base Groups

When the study table groups break up and all participants return to their home-base tables, post questions on the board that pertain to this statement: “Your team is designing a set of time-management guidelines for the personal training department.”

  • What new systems would you recommend?
  • What staff behaviors would you advise trainers to adopt?

Allow 30 minutes for home-base discussion and gathering of ideas from each of the home-base teams.

The study table theme can be adapted to a myriad of concepts—from exercise adherence to client motivation to communication techniques. Remember that for this activity to feel productive, the last step—developing a set of guidelines or procedures for the staff&mdashis crucial.

Bringing staff together is a powerful communication tool. Both you and Jane, who was mentioned in the opening scenario, want staff to look forward to well-planned, productive staff meetings. Use your time and resources wisely!