How a Creative Shift in Staff Meetings Created Success

Ana Zaldarriaga
Ana Zaldarriaga

Born out of corporate boredom, our company-wide staff meeting was reinvented as Popcorn. Unlike the brainstorm strategy with the same moniker, we decided to call it Popcorn expecting ideas to be popping! What could result from the energy of our community all together in a space under certain conditions? What would pop out an idea kernel, or a conversation seed? How would it ignite someone else? What would proliferate or multiply? What could come from being under heat and pressure? What does that sound like?

These company meetings, which take place every six weeks or so, followed the norm of many others: people seated around a large formation of tables, an agenda, unlimited coffee, and even complimentary meals. The results were almost always the same: a lack of clarity about what happened, staff disengagement throughout the meeting, feeling unheard at certain moments, and a low sense of productivity. Changes needed to be made, and those changes saved our company culture.

The first change was that only full-time staff were part of this meeting to ensure complete relevance of presentation to programming. The second change was in presentation mode. Caveat: this took us a long time! As a group of former educators, teaching artists, and actors, we took this forum as a stage and put on some amazing, and zany, presentations. SNL skits, tableaus, music videos, parodies, sonnets, games, and musicals (just to name a few). Attendance was full and engagement was high. We even served popcorn at every meeting. However, information dissemination and retention was low. It was too much fun, so we had to pull on the reins a bit. It took us a year or two to really find the best format, and when we finally did, it never changed.

There is a scientific formula to popping popcorn, gather some kernels, get them hot, watch them pop, and don’t let them burn. However, the actual cooking method could be different such as in a pan, in a microwave, oven, or even air popped. Once popped, you can season it any way you like!

We realized the formula was important, and we could always change up the method.  In the end, this is the formula we developed for a Successful Company Staff Meeting:

  • Teambulding Activity: Warm ‘em up! Always start with an Icebreaker! You are going to be in a meeting for a while, so the warm-up sets the tone for the rest of the day.
  • Executive Update: The head of your organization or team should give an update. This allows everyone to feel like they know the focus for the day and how they are all stakeholders in the action.
  • Department Updates: Hearing from everyone ensures that the staff feels like they have made a personal conribution to the meeting, and that they are valued and have a voice.
  • Celebrations: Everyone loves to party! And everyone loves to get some love! Make space for celebrations in your time tougher. We have Hard Core Value nominations that are shared publicly to highlight great work and moments when our staff go above and beyond in one of our ten Core Values. Also, don’t forget the birthdays and big personal news.
  • Keep an Agenda and Keep Time: Set a formal agenda for the day and send it to everyone before hand, and keep a visible agenda up on the day of the meeting. Do your best to keep time because it sets a precedent for all the participants.
  • Brain Breaks: The importance of participant breaks is backed by science, so make sure that your line-up involves shifts in seating, lighting, and presentation format. Don’t let your staff get burnt out!
  • Close Out: A closeout is the bookend for your meeting and is the place where the topics, themes, and information are quickly synthesized so that everyone leaves with a strong lasting impression.

Once this formula was set, we understood we could always change the content. Change your facilitators, change the information presentation format, change the brain breaks, change the food, change the activities, but the framework for success was set. Popcorn is now the official name for our company-wide meetings, and it has been going strong for over a decade. We stick to the formula and then see what pops! And we still serve actual popcorn: sometimes it’s buttered and salted, sometimes it cheesy, but it’s never the same.

For more on our Popcorn series, connect with me on LinkedIn. If you have any strategies for successful staff meetings share them below—we’d love to hear about your best practices. Challenges? Share those too! Were happy to troubleshoot with you.



"The Popcorn Series: How a Creative Shift in Staff Meetings Created Success", The Leadership Program, Inc. 2016


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Ana Zaldarriaga

By Ana Zaldarriaga

Ana Zaldarriaga Pronouns: she/her/hers Sr. Dir. of Employee Development The Leadership Program 535 8th Avenue, Floor 16 New York City, NY 10018 Phone: 212.625.8001 Fax: 212.625.8020 “…building strong leaders in classrooms and communities."