Take A Hike

Out Of The Box

How shocked would your employees be if, as they filed into the room for a meeting, you said "Today, let's do something different. Why don't we go sit in the park instead?" If you're feeling stuck for ideas when it comes to new and creative meeting places, there's no need. Even a small change, like going down the hall and sitting on sofas, can make a difference. "The point is that you're trying to get out of the box," McAndrew says. The main consideration for entrepreneurs to keep in mind is that some things shouldn't be taken outside the office-mainly proprietary information, which will limit location choices depending on the nature of the session. Here are some other tips:

  • Start Small. Beginning with informal one-on-one meetings outside the office is a good way to encourage both you and your employees to think outside the typical meeting rut when it's time to discuss new ideas. Eventually, the whole group should participate in the outside sessions.
  • Know the meeting process. "Formal meetings are OK for distributing information, but are a lousy way to get new ideas," Vikesland says. He adds that there are three different kinds of meetings: informational (for training and procedures), problem-solving (for finding a solution) and brainstorming (for strategizing and ideas). The brainstorming session, he says, adapts best to outside the office because a relaxed atmosphere encourages people to share more freely.
  • Mine the knowledge. Getting out will reveal some things about your employees that you may not have known before, especially regarding your quieter staff members. While some people can tend to dominate traditional roundtable office meetings, a dose of spontaneity will allow other employees to take over as the experts. Their way of looking at things may even surprise you. "This is a way for the others to contribute their knowledge, which can really shake things up," McAndrew says. So take advantage of it.

Incorporating meeting opportunities that take place outside the standard setting at your office will provide an outlet for your employees and, with time, might even become habit-forming. Crawford continues to set her sights higher, encouraging employees to accompany her on hikes around "The Dish," a nearby three mile trail. "I don't have any takers yet," she laughs. "But if I have time for a meeting with an employee, truthfully, I'd rather go there."

Next Step
  • www.employer-employee.com: Here, Gary Vikesland, a licensed psychologist and certified employee-asstistance counselor, offers ideas on how employers and employees can learn to work together better.
  • www.sccu.edu/Faculty/R_Harris/crebook2.htm is the Web site of Robert Harris, a professor at Vanguard University of Southern California in Costa Mesa. Harris provides visitors with a guide to classic creative thinking techniques and how to produce new ideas and solutions.

Contact Sources

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the July 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Take A Hike.

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