22 Jun Play-Doh, Pipe Cleaners and Post-Its: Our Favorite Supplies For Keeping Meetings Creative
Meetings. The word can inspire dread in office workers around the world—and who can blame them? For some, “meetings” conjures up images of gray rooms and hours of slide shows. That doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for creativity. But meetings are an important part of running a business, so the answer isn’t just to stop having them. Instead, stock your office with the right tools to make meetings more interesting, more productive and more creative. And these supplies aren’t just for meetings—they can also give your workshops and other events an awesome creative boost!
So what supplies can help amp up your meetings? These are some of our favorites that we regularly use for our workshops, meetings, and events:
Nobody does their best thinking (or has the most motivation) when they’re hungry. We always like to have some snacks and beverages around to give everyone the energy they need. It’s great to have healthy snacks that are filling but not too labor-intensive or time-consuming to eat. Think Kind bars, fruit, baby carrots, roasted almonds or trail mix. It’s ok to have a few unhealthy snacks too—although it’s probably best to keep them small so that your group doesn’t end up in a sugar coma or just feeling like garbage. Gum is another great thing to have on hand; it keeps everyone feeling fresh through a long meeting.
As far as beverages go, the most important thing is hydration, which means you’ll want to have plenty of water on hand for your team the entire time. Planning a meeting early in the morning or during that post lunch slump? Don’t forget the coffee. And for concluding an all-day session or a meeting later in the day, we like to have beer or wine around. It keeps the mood light and relaxed at the end of a long day—plus it’s just plain pleasant!
In addition to making sure everyone is fueled up, we like to make sure they have the tools they need to come up with and share awesome ideas. Start with nametags and a way to get people’s attention, like a bell or chime. Then, basic office supplies are super helpful: a whiteboard, whiteboard markers, Mr. Sketch markers, Sharpies in various colors and sizes, flip charts, butcher paper and scratch paper. If you’re in the market to expand your marker game, check out Neuland markers. They don’t smell and you can refill them and replace the nibs, which makes them basically immortal. In addition to tons of markers, we also love to have a speaker of some sort in the room to give our session a soundtrack—that helps get everyone pumped up and feeling creative.
One office supply, in particular, that we ALWAYS have on hand are Post-It Notes. We use the ½ x 1 ¾ size for voting; the 3 x 3 size for recording stories and capturing ideas; and the 8 x 6 size and jumbo poster-sized Post-Its for activities, sketching and headlines. You can use different colors and arrangements to help organize your ideas and create super clear visual maps of the project or idea your team is working on. Ever been in a session with lead trainer Hannah Dubin? You’ve probably seen her awesome sticky wall. It’s a great way to turn an office wall into a really cool tool for visually organizing your work.
For prototyping, you can never have too many supplies. So we make sure to stock our cabinet with a diversity of items: Play-Doh, string, popsicle sticks, foam stickers, paperclips of every shape and size, construction paper, tin foil, scissors, glue sticks, pipe cleaners, Legos, and index cards, for example—everything needed to physically create ideas on the spot. We also like to keep a box of random knick-knacks from Oriental Trading for inspiration or to incorporate into our designs.
Need help with time management? A Time Timer clock is perfect for keeping rapid activities on schedule.
Experiential and Inspirational Supplies
Some of us think best when we’re still and quiet. Others are at our best when we have something to keep our hands busy while our minds roam. As a facilitator, it can be helpful to keep some small, quiet supplies on hand for the more kinesthetic thinkers and learners on our teams. Supplies like Play-Doh, pipe cleaners, and koosh balls give people something to fiddle with as they think without distracting other people in the room. It’s good to also have some games on hand. BananaGrams, small magnet games and playing cards are great for helping you open up your brain—relieving some of the pressure of direct focus and allowing your mind to free-associate and make unusual connections.
Additionally, invite people to doodle or draw to help them focus. Create the open environment for individuals to do what works for them to stay focused and ‘in the room.’
Thoughtful, fun stuff in general is great for greasing the mental rails. We like to have books of cartoons around (stick to ones that have a single panel so that they don’t take too much time and effort to get through) to encourage thinking about things in a different way. Books like “Would You Rather…” or any of those coffee table books they sell at Urban are also great tools to get people thinking, laughing and interacting. They act as a playful diversion from the main task to keep people loose and comfortable and help stir up those creative juices.
Both during and after your sessions, it’s super helpful to have documentation of what came out of the meeting or workshop. The good news is that it’s 2016 and there’s no need to go out and hire a videographer—cell phone cameras are a great way to handle it! You can take photos and videos of a session to record key processes and insights so your team can reference them after the fact.
Naturally, you’ll also need a centrally-accessible place to share that documentation. Dropbox and Google Drive folders are both great ways to store and share your photos and videos of a session.
The work and creativity that goes into a meeting or event doesn’t all happen in the couple of hours your team is in a room together. People have great ideas and insights all the time, so it can be super helpful to keep a fresh stack of nice sketchbooks around for your team to use. It’s a low-cost, high-impact way to encourage everyone to stay curious. We love ScoutBooks and Moleskines, depending on the situation.
Here’s a Pro Tip: don’t just give notebooks away. It’s too easy for them to end up at the bottom of a desk drawer or shoved in a bag and forgotten. Instead, make them an active part of your work process. Start asking people to bring 3-5 pages of thoughts and sketches into meetings. That forces them to do some critical thinking on their own before the session even starts. Your meetings will be more effective with that kind of head start and it’s also a great way to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute their ideas.
Google Calendar Invites
So, this technically isn’t a supply that you could stick in a closet with the glue sticks and Post-It notes, but it’s super important for a valuable session. Scheduling alone is crucial, especially when your team is busy (and who isn’t?). You can also use it to outline the basic agenda and outcomes, designate a facilitator and other roles, and assign pre-thinking or homework to help prepare for the session. That lets everyone know what they should expect and gives them a chance to start brainstorming and prepping in advance.
The Cabinet of Dr. Creativity
The transition from old-school meetings (with legal pads and pens and maybe a cup of coffee) to a creativity-centered meeting will take a little bit of time and experimentation. You can stock your office with every cool supply on earth but it’s not going to help if no one is using them! Try asking your team to create prototypes and ideation boards to encourage them to dig into the supply cabinet. You can always lead by example—be the first person at a session to jump up and hit the whiteboard or start pulling out the Post-It notes. And make sure you keep your supplies in a central, accessible location to make it as easy as possible to get to them.
Keep an eye on what supplies your team likes to use and what supplies are most effective. Building an arsenal of creativity-boosting supplies is kind of like stocking up your pantry—you don’t need to get every single thing you’ll ever use all at once. You’re liable to end up with 250 spices you don’t know how to pronounce but no sugar! Instead, you can build up what you need over time as you figure out what works for your team (and what doesn’t).
Once you know what you need to stock up on, you can create small ‘facilitation kits’ with key supplies. We like to keep them with us so we’re always prepared! These kits also make great gifts for your team.
So there you have it—these are the tools we use to boost our meetings out of the Dilbert doldrums. For easy access to most of the items in this post, check out our curated Amazon list. Also, we’re big fans of the Sprint Kit, from Google Ventures. Did we miss anything on our list? Let us know what supplies your team loves—tweet us @TheDesignGym or simply reply in the comments.