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You probably have a team meeting. These meetings likely involve status updates from the team, cascading information from on high, and a general complaint forum. Rarely do these sessions focus on improving the organization or raise challenging questions for debate. Most of these meetings should have been an e-mail.

One argument is to eliminate them. This is an option I’m generally in favor of unless you can find a way to make these meetings useful. Connection to your team and a periodic face-to-face is essential in my view, so looking for ways to make these scheduled meetings useful (notice I didn’t say productive) is valuable.

But how?

I enjoy TED videos. Short videos on a narrow topic. Some are given by very engaging personalities and can create great conversation. One day I was thinking of ways to improve engagement across the organization – reduce silos and raise the level of discussion. I thought going through a shared experience, even one as short as a TED video, might provide some common ground to open up discussion beyond just status updates or complaints about office politics. I introduced this concept for team meetings, focusing on discussion and improvement within my department. In several organizations, I opened it up to everyone and labeled them simply Bamboo Meeting.

The name Bamboo Meeting came from a TEDx video by Gar Reynolds on lessons he’s drawn from Japanese culture. The lesson from bamboo is that it is resilient and flexible – much like our organizations should be. I used Gar’s video in the first Bamboo Meeting I held.

Holding a Bamboo Meeting is pretty simple:

  1. Find a short video that presents a concept, idea, or controversy relevant to the work. You can be very broad about how you define relevance here, but be cautious about things too controversial at the beginning. You want to allow your team to gain cultural traction in debate. It’s best if the video has some sense of humor to lighten the mood and put people into a frame to discuss openly. Avoid the desire to present a topic yourself. There is a benefit to having an outside party, in this case, a video, to present a topic in which you can be part of the discussion. If you present the topic, you run the risk that your team will feel the need to agree with whatever position you’ve staked out because of a lack of psychological safety in your group.
  2. Frame the video in terms of discussion points. This is your chance as a leader to set the tone. Are there issues you think should be discussed in the organization? Why did you choose this video? For each Bamboo Meeting I’ve prepared, I include a series of questions you might find helpful. Pick from those or make your own. Give some thought to what questions you raise, and make sure they are relevant to your organization or your department’s challenge. It’s generally a good idea to limit it to a few questions at most – don’t go through a lightning round – you’re looking to go deeper than usual here.
  3. Alternatively, you can present a larger number of questions or topics and use lean-coffee-style voting to drive the discussion.

Once you’ve selected your video and prepared your questions and framing, running the Bamboo Meeting is very simple:

  1. In your meeting, introduce the topic
  2. Show the video (it’s important here that any video you use should be fairly short, the TED guidelines are helpful here, so keep it under 18min)
  3. Discuss. This can start with opening it up to the group, or you can kick things off with your selected question or talking points to drive the discussion.

Timing and schedule

If you have this as part of your regular staff meeting, use the initial time to review status updates or any items for communication and leave the later part of the meeting for the Bamboo Meeting. This can also allow you to invite others while avoiding having them sit through boring updates. It’s recommended, however, to have a Bamboo Meeting as a stand-alone event and avoid just slapping it on the back of your existing meetings (which, again, should probably be an e-mail)

Selecting a location

Ideally, look for a unique place to hold your meeting. If you usually hold your staff meetings in your office or a nearby conference room, try switching up floors – do the meeting in another department, the cafe, or outside. Break up the default context to put people in a different frame of mind.

Bamboo Meetings in a larger organizational context

You can also host Bamboo Meetings for general attendance as a way to engage the larger organization. See if your department is interested in taking this on as a service to the organization. The process is the same; you just need to account for this with location and schedule. I’ve run Bamboo Meetings with over a hundred participants successfully.

Getting Started

I’ve provided a set of Bamboo Meeting decks with associated videos you can use to get started. These subjects should be broadly applicable to just about any organization. Use the template provided to think about how these concepts are important to your specific context. This is critical – make the information useful to your organization. Modify the deck or other visuals as necessary for the discussion.

You can go in any order you wish, but I recommend starting with the Lessons from Bamboo first, as this sets the stage for why you’re having such a special meeting in the first place.

Feedback welcome

If you have videos you think are interesting or have a Bamboo Meeting topic you’ve created, I’d love to hear about it – and if you like, I’ll include it in the series.