Break the script with your next meeting kickoff

You know that reoccurring weekly meeting on your calendar, the one you probably dread? We’d venture a guess that if the meeting kickoff was exciting, you’d actually (dare we say it) enjoy the rest of the meeting. We believe that the meeting kickoff sets the tone for the rest of the agenda and the mood of the room.

Here are our tips on how to make your next meeting kickoff better:

Group share a “positive focus”

This is a sparkspace tradition! We start our Monday staff meetings by going around in a circle sharing a positive focus. This can be a positive interaction with a client, a professional victory, or a personal achievement. The action of everyone sharing establishes trust in the meeting as well as good vibes all around. It’s a ritual that we hold sacred for our meetings, and something we do every week. Give it a try!

Watch an inspirational video

Our C.O.O. loves this tactic. Once a month she’ll bring a thought-provoking TED Talk video to kick off our weekly staff meeting with. After watching it, we’ll discuss as a team before we launch into the meeting agenda. Not only do we learn something new, but this often opens up to a larger discussion about our company’s evolution or innovative ideas that we may never have had otherwise.

Do a creative exercise

This tactic works great for meetings when you need to generate team input and ideas. Instead of asking people to chime in with their thoughts, which can typically be a slow process and produce lackluster results, start the meeting with a creative activity that will get juices flowing.

For example, our team was recently tasked with thinking of design ideas for our new meeting room that we’re opening. Instead of kicking off the meeting by predictably diving into the agenda, we started by clipping out ideas from magazines and posting them up on a giant bulletin board together. This visioning activity could also work for customer profiling exercises, re-branding ideation, product launch strategy, etc.


What if you just allowed your team to have fun for a few moments, no strings attached? team sparkspace was totally surprised in a weekly meeting when our C.O.O. brought a funny board game for us to play for ten minutes or so. This quirky start to the meeting not only put the team in a good mood, it also boosted our energy on what would’ve been another run-of-the-mill Monday meeting. And yes, we actually did get to the content of the meeting (though we closed the meeting by playing another round of the game). It definitely doesn’t hurt a company when coworkers get along!

So now we challenge you! How are you going to start your next meeting differently?

How to Spark Positivity in Your Team

Does work, your team, or your work environment feel tired and a bit like “Groundhog Day”? Does every meeting bring on a sense of Déjà vu, and dread? Regardless of where you work or what you do, if the default flow of the day becomes routine or your work is primarily problem-solving, it is easy to fall into negativity that impacts both your mindset and your performance.

Want to know some good news?

Adding a positive spark back into your workday and team is as simple as 1, 2, 3!

In this edition of team sparkspace series, founder Mark Henson and lead facilitator Mike Clouse each share their favorite ways to start building a positive team culture.

Mike’s tip: Share a positive focus during staff meetings.

Begin your meetings by sharing a positive event, idea or opportunity that you’ve recently experienced. Our fearless leader and COO here at sparkspace, Leah Senecal, has us share a positive focus at our Monday staff meetings. This does three great things for us:

  1. It draws out the voice of each person in the meeting right away at the beginning. This loosens everyone up and fosters more conversation and engagement throughout the entire meeting.
  2. As each person shares their positive focus, we learn more about each individual on a more personal and deeper level. As personal connections strengthen, so does trust which leads to great collaboration, teamwork, and effectiveness.
  3. We recognize, acknowledge and celebrate one another. I don’t have to tell you the kind of energy boost that can be. To have someone see us and celebrate us, with us, can be restorative. This energy boost then manifests into positive workplace behaviors.

Mark’s tip: Remember to encourage others! 

  1. Encourage others…intentionally and authentically. Get up, walk around and look for people doing the right things. Good things. Especially those who are working hard and possibly struggling. Give them a high-five, an encouraging word. Make sure they know they are appreciated and valued for more than just what they do.
  2. Finally, be consistent in these things. They aren’t huge, complicated or monumental. But when they are done authentically, consistently and role modeled by leadership you will be surprised by the impact that such simple actions can, and will, have on you and your team.

By the way, you don’t have to be a leader by position to have a huge impact within your team and organization. So regardless of title, lead by example and attitude. Your influence may be just the spark your organization needs!

Want to learn more about improving team culture from Mark and Mike? Follow along on our Facebook page for new video tips! Or check out our options for Mark and Mike to add positivity to your next meeting here at sparkspace, through meeting facilitation!

How Meeting Facilitation Can Help Three Common Team Problems

Over the past 18 years, we have hosted thousands of meetings with teams of every shape, size, and dysfunction you can imagine. We’ve witnessed too many teams dragged down by baggage they didn’t even know they were carrying. That’s why we’re now offering professional meeting facilitation at sparkspace. We know what a strong, productive team looks like, but we also know what makes a good leader. We understand the mechanics of effective meetings, and we want to help as many teams as possible drop the baggage that’s dragging them down with our meeting facilitation techniques.

What kind of baggage are teams carrying? Here are three common (and very destructive) potential team problems we see on a regular basis:


Team Baggage #1: Confusion

Another way to say it would be lack of clarity. Way too often our teams do not have clarity of our vision, mission, values, or even each person’s basic job description. The more established your team is, the more likely this is to be the case.

Without clarity, your people basically wander around in a fog, hoping they’ll find their way to solid ground. How can they really succeed if they don’t really know what’s expected of them? If your team is always falling short of expectations, maybe they are confused. You also might entertain the idea that as a leader, you may be contributing to their confusion.

To eliminate confusion, be very clear about expectations up front AND repeat your expectations early and often. Articulate your vision, establish accurate job descriptions, and let everyone know what success looks like and how it will be measured. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You almost cannot repeat these things enough. The point when you’re sick of repeating your vision, values, expectations, etc. is the point when they are just starting to sink in with your team.


Team Baggage #2: Artificial Harmony

Artificial Harmony is a term found in the book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It’s what happens when everything appears great on the surface, but under the water, you’ve got lots of quiet turmoil that shows up as resentment, gossip, “passable” (but not excellent) performance, and more. Artificial Harmony occurs when you’ve got problems, but nobody wants to talk about them. So they persist, quietly, and they slowly destroy your team.

Teams with Artificial Harmony appear to have very little if any, conflict. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Teams with TRUE harmony actually have a fair amount of healthy, productive conflict. Healthy, productive conflict focuses on issues and seeks resolution. Those involved come to agreement on how to end the conflict and move forward. That doesn’t mean everyone is happy all the time, but at least people feel like they have been heard and their ideas have been considered.

If your team is experiencing Artificial Harmony, it can actually be helpful to “stir the pot” a bit. Bring up issues and work to seek out positive resolution. As you do, however, be sure to focus on the issues and never make it personal. As you mediate conflict, watch out for strong emotional responses, which are usually an indicator that the conflict is being taken personally. It can be helpful to seek the help of someone who possesses meeting facilitation skills, particularly in terms of sensitive discussions.

As you learn to resolve conflict in a healthy, productive way, you’ll be able to leave the baggage of Artificial Harmony in the past where it belongs.


Team Baggage #3: Fear

Fear should have no place at work, and yet it exists in countless numbers of teams. If your people don’t share their ideas, or never bring up any issues, or never engage in healthy conflict, I can almost guarantee that it’s because of fear. Either they fear you as a leader or they fear their peers.

It is very easy to create fear from a leadership position and not even know you’re doing it. When you laughingly dismiss an idea, or you argue with someone in a staff meeting, or you give someone the silent treatment because you don’t like the way they handled something, you’ve probably created fear of repercussion. All it takes is one instance of feeling punished or embarrassed to keep someone from sticking their neck out again.

Leaders are not the only ones who can accidentally (or intentionally) punish or embarrass someone at work. Peers do it all the time to each other. Strong personalities can bulldoze over the less outspoken in a heartbeat. Getting run over by a bulldozer hurts. Nobody wants to do it twice.

One of the most important characteristics of effective leadership is the ability to create and foster psychological safety for the team. That means allowing people to freely share their thoughts without repercussion and making sure that your people know you’ve got their back. Evaluate your actions and responses to make sure you’re not accidentally causing fear. When you see “peer fear” raising its ugly head, it is your job to make sure it is addressed and eliminated — without causing more fear in the process.

All of this is easier said than done, of course. To help you understand and deal with these three pieces of baggage that may be harming your team, we recently held a Facebook Live event where we dove into this topic a little bit deeper and offered up some additional solutions.

Check out the archived Facebook Live video here


Check out our new meeting facilitation offer!

We can help your team set down the baggage. One way we can help is through our brand new professional meeting facilitation offer. We’re not just the place have the place to help you have your best meeting ever, we also have the people and the programs to help you have your most powerful and productive meeting ever. Click here to find out more about meeting facilitation at sparkspace.

Oh, and by the way, we don’t just facilitate at sparkspace. We’ll meet you wherever you are.



Three Ways to Avoid the Afternoon Slump During Your Next Meeting

Does the afternoon slump sound familiar to anyone? You’re in an all-day meeting and the 2 o’clock hour rolls around. Ugh. The energy has drained from the meeting room. Your coworker’s eyes are glazed over and they’re all tired from that carb-heavy lunch. Is anyone even paying attention?!?

I’ve seen the look of despair in the eyes of many “meeting-goers” as they try to escape the conference room for a quick trip to the restroom or for that non-urgent phone call that can’t wait any longer. Does anyone know how to prevent this dreaded afternoon slump?

Well, there’s hope!

Here are some easy tips on how to beat the afternoon slump.

  • Get Moving: Get your team outside! Go for a quick walk around the block or to the nearest coffee shop. It’s amazing what a little movement and vitamin D will do for your team’s morale and clarity.


  • Get Laughing: I’ve read somewhere that laughter aides in digestion. Digestion is probably the reason why we are all so tired after lunch in the first place, so why not speed up the process? During or right after lunch try incorporating some laughter. Here are couple entertaining clips that are sure to get your team rolling with laughter.


  • Get Snacking: Hold up. Don’t get too excited. This doesn’t mean the sugar-filled cookies and ice cream you had after lunch, which are likely afternoon slump causes. You need healthy snacks that provide protein, fiber, and complex carbs. Try a veggie tray or Mediterranean platter as a great alternative to the sugary snooze fest snacks we typically see in the afternoon.

Try out one of these tips during your next all-day meeting. Your team will appreciate it and you’ll be on step closer to having your best meeting ever!

Why Structured Play is the New Way to Team Build

The last stretch of summer is when teams shake things up with a company outing. And while we love baseball games, zoo trips, or even just lounging on a restaurant patio, these offsites don’t necessarily accomplish effective employee bonding.

So how do you combine the fun of a company outing with the effectiveness of team building? Structured play.

Structured play provides a fun, engaging environment paired with purpose. 

Staff retreats that utilize structured play will experience immediate benefits. Here’s three that we believe make the most impact:

1. Structured play puts people in a state of “flow”. 

Have you ever been so engrossed in an activity that you lost all sense of time? This means you were in “flow.” There’s lots of research about this state of mind but the easiest way to explain it is to compare it to sports: let’s look at tennis. In a game of tennis, there are rules (hit ball inside lines), a goal (to win), and a challenge (someone is on the other side hitting the ball back).

All of these elements light up your brain more compared to if someone just gave you a racket and ball to whack around. The activity is more fun with rules and a challenge.

Let’s go back to the earlier example of a company outing at a baseball game. How can you add some “rules” to the experience so employees aren’t just passively watching the game?  Some team building ideas include creating a photo scavenger hunt or “people watching BINGO!” Gamify an element of the outing to get people “in the flow” and engaged more during the day!


2. Structured play actually forces you to be more creative. 

Structured play means exactly what it implies: there’s structure to the activity. And it seems counterintuitive but restraints actually make you more creative. I’m sure all the free-spirits out there instantly say, “yeah right” but studies show it’s true!

So why is creativity important during a team retreat? Walls come down. Conversations get deeper. Relationships are forged. Giving people prompts and rules for engaging in an activity shuts down the small talk and gets to the good stuff (which is why “team building icebreakers” are a thing).



3. Structured play creates a relaxed environment for all types of personalities.

Structured play creates a relaxed environment for all types of personalities. It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or extrovert when it comes to structured play. With team building activities, people are given a mission to work towards along with rules so there’s less ambiguity in the atmosphere. This creates a safe, relaxed space for all types of people.

I’ll use a restaurant as the example: Suppose you host a large group dinner as your company’s summer outing. Introverts may feel too shy or overwhelmed to interact and extroverts may feel frustrated that not everyone is as engaged the conversation. Weaving in a structured play activity, such as an icebreaker or a game after dinner provides a welcome reprieve from forced interaction.

Convinced that structured play is a must-have for your next staff retreat? sparkspace now offers different types of team building experiences crafted specifically to achieve the bonding benefits you’re looking for! Check out our menu on our website to find the perfect fit for your team and budget.

How We Retreat: Our Recipe for the Perfect Staff Meeting

So how does team sparkspace retreat? Over the past 17 years in business and hosting thousands of meetings, we’ve learned lots of best meeting practices and staff retreat ideas. However it’s through our own personal experience meeting as a team that we’ve discovered the must-haves for staff retreats.

Here’s sparkspace’s top three necessities for creating the perfect staff retreat.

We find the perfect location:

Yes, we have an amazing facility. It’s actually a perfect space for a retreat but we as a team take our own advice seriously: go offsite for a retreat! Staying on-site is not conducive to a distraction-free, fresh, new environment, so we look for another staff retreat location. Our owner has a cabin on a lake only about an hour away, which is a perfect spot. We’ve also used nearby hotel suites. We make sure any space has natural light, comfortable seating, and is advantageous to creative thinking.

Enjoying our annual team retreat at our founder’s cabin in the woods!

We involve everyone ahead of time:

Pre-work and an agenda is a must for a staff retreat. We think back over the past year on what has worked out, what can be improved, and what were our biggest successes. We then kick-off our retreat with each person sharing the top 3-5 biggest successes in their role over the past year. This not only starts the retreat on a positive note but creates an open environment where we’re all comfortable participating, sharing ideas, and brainstorming throughout the day.

We end the day with a fun activity:

We’re kinda big on the whole team bonding thing, so it’s no surprise we incorporate a team activity. Some of our fun retreat ideas we’ve brought to life include Segway tours, Cirque de Soleil, dinner and zoo lights, participating in charity work, baking and decorating cookies together, participating in an Escape Room, etc. Our team bonding experiences have ranged in budget, but were all equally fun and energizing!

Team sparkspace on a Segway Tour

Five Ways to Take Your Meeting From Good to Great

We’ve hosted thousands of meetings over the past 17 years here at sparkspace and throughout the years, we’ve seen what makes certain meeting planners stand out. The thing is, what the rockstar meeting planners do isn’t super complicated; anyone can do it! Essentially, there are five very simple yet effective meeting strategies that make their meetings successful and elevate them to “meeting hero” status.

Here are five effective meeting tips that will transform you into a meeting hero:

Prepare an Agenda
Agendas keep the facilitator and team on track and ensure everyone is prepared for the meeting. In order for the agenda to be useful it needs to be prepared and sent to the team at least two days prior to the meeting. This way the team is aware of materials, reports, and discussion topics in advance. Read our blog post on how to write an effective meeting agenda.

Schedule Frequent Breaks
Sounds juvenile, but you would be amazed at how infrequently teams break. If attendees continually keep getting up during the meeting it’s a sign that your team needs a break! Short breaks should be scheduled every hour in order to keep the team energized, focused and engaged.

Communicate with Meeting Facility
Communication between the facilitator and meeting facility is crucial to the success of the meeting. You’ll want to communicate the room setup desired and meeting materials needed prior to the day of the meeting. Having AV equipment, office supplies, and materials prepared and ready ahead of time is an important step in conducting effective meetings.

Order Yummy Food
Food is often the most anticipated part of the meeting so don’t disappoint your team! Keep the food fresh, healthy and abundant. If you’re meeting all day, don’t skip breakfast and make sure to have an afternoon snack. The dreaded 2 o’clock hour is the perfect time to reenergize with a fresh fruit bowl or a Mediterranean platter. This secret can definitely impact your “meeting hero” status.

Create an Action Plan & Follow Up
Specifying actionable items or tasks is imperative to the success and outcome of your meeting. Once the action plan has been set, schedule specific dates with your team to follow up. Using the last hour of your meeting to create an action plan and follow up dates will make everyone feel like there was purpose for the meeting.

Three Ways to Make Your Meeting an Experience

Why is creating an “experience” so important anyway?

We remember experiences. Studies have shown that we are more likely to recall information when it is attached to a sense, whether it’s touch, sight, smell, taste, or sound. We all know what it’s like when a certain smell or song sends us right back in time to memory from our childhood or past event in our lives. So what better way to create a creative meeting experience than to include one of our five senses?

Here are three out-of-the-box meeting ideas that will create a memorable experience:


Encourage Doodling & Play

Creating a playful environment is one way to generate a memorable experience. Not many meetings include hands-on materials like play dough, crayons, markers, construction paper, and pipe cleaners on the conference table. Go ahead…encourage your team to doodle during your meeting and watch their reactions.

By simply allowing “play” and “doodling” during your next meeting your team has the potential to retain up to 30% more information presented. Don’t believe me? Check out this article and book by Sunni Brown. She is a doodle expert!


Provide Food, Food, and more Food

Smells are one of the strongest senses tied to memory, so food can be key to a memorable experience. Plus, it’s the best part of the meeting, right? Now, a plain deli tray may not awaken our senses, but a hot Korean BBQ bowl with sautéed veggies, colorful toppings and a variety of sauces is another story. It’s making me hungry just typing it up!

Food bowls are very trendy right now and the presentation is amazing so try one at your next meeting. Read our blog post on current food trends that you can serve at your next meeting!

Seasonal Meeting Catering


Participate in a Team Bonding Activity

This is an easy one. No matter what team bonding experience you choose whether you’re volunteering, taking a food tour, or bowling, your team is likely to remember this type of event. Especially since they’ll be engaging all their senses.

Escape Room Team Building Activity

If you’re looking for ideas for conference activities, we have several options here at sparkspace including our summer exclusive with Kingmakers. Kingmakers is a board game parlor with game “sommeliers.” We also have our escape room (pictured above) and our North Market Foodie Adventure. For more information on our team bonding experiences click here.