Tag Archives: Management Approach

The Case for Toys in Meetings

Toys should be provided to attendees of long meetings
Toys can make meetings more productive

It was strange for my kids at first.  We’d be out running errands on a Saturday and I’d tell them I have to stop and buy some toys for a meeting I have on Monday.

“Toys? For a meeting?” they would ask.

We’d run into the Dollar Store or a Dollar General and find some cheap toys.  Maybe some squeezy rubber toys that light up inside, or maybe some scary rubber dinosaurs. I’d fill a basket with about fifteen of them and we’d go check out.  I’d always make sure to get the receipt because I would report it on my expense report.

The kids would just shake their heads. Most adults would too. But there are some legitimate reasons to bring toys to a meeting.

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I manage projects in an agile environment.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, for purposes of this blog post, we plan our work in four-week sprints. Every four weeks, we spend anywhere from a half-day to a day reviewing the requirements, identifying what tasks need to be performed by whom, and planning each task for each person for the next  four week “sprint.”

Reviewing the requirements can take a half a day. That’s a long time for anyone to sit and listen. So I bring everybody toys for several reasons.

Related post: 8 Tips for Meeting Facilitators

Creativity: When someone has a bright shiny toy it gets them thinking differently.  Perhaps it takes them back to their childhood before school and work ripped all of the creativity out of them.  Or maybe the sharp contrast of having a toy in a drab work environment does the trick.  Whatever the reason, I’ve seen people solve problems in more unique ways when toys are involved.

Alternative to electronics: It doesn’t take long in any meeting for someone to get bored and unholster their smart phone.  Perhaps they check an email they just got a notification for.  Then they want to check updates on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Before you know it, they haven’t heard the last fifteen minutes of the meeting.

I would venture to bet that most electronics use in meetings is a result of boredom.  Providing toys allows people to keep their hands busy and avoid opting for the more distracting electronic toy.

Fun: Few would refute the argument that toys create a more fun environment. When a group of people have to meet for a long meeting, the mood of that meeting can be lightened up significantly with a few brightly colored toys. And toys won’t put you in the sugar coma associated with a dozen donuts.

Status symbols: I’ve seen the toys coveted.  People line their cubicles and offices with the toys they’ve collected over time.  The toys become trophies signifying how many of the planning meetings they’ve been through.

Good and bad toys in meetings

To be conducive to a meeting you have to get the right toy.  First of all, I wouldn’t recommend spending too much.  I try to spend between one and two dollars per person.  You don’t need to get more expensive than that.

The best toy is one that you can do things with.  Something that squeezes or is bendable is the best. Meeting attendees can bend and ply the toy while listening to a speaker without too much distraction.

Bad toys are any kind of toy that makes noise and would distract the meeting. Balls or any kind of toy that will bounce or induce people to throw around will automatically turn thirty-something professionals into a group of eighth-graders.

I have also found Silly Putty to be distracting.  There apparently are just too many things to do with it.  People start looking for funny papers to transfer on to the glob or they roll it into a bouncable ball (see above).

The best toys I’ve used are rubber squeeze toys that light up (about a dollar at most dollar-type stores), Wikki Sticks (http://www.wikkistix.com/), and bendable monsters with arms that twist. (Doing a Google search on “meeting toys” will find you plenty of links to companies that market to this unique niche.)

It’s probably not necessary to bring toys to every single meeting you attend.  But if you plan a meeting longer than an hour where people will be presenting a lot of information or where you want to induce some creativity, I’d suggest bringing some cheap, fun, goofy toys to it.

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