Gary Winters

Coach  Workshop Facilitator Author

Bring fireflies to your next meeting!

This post is taken from my latest book, So, How Was Your Meeting? which is available as a Kindle e-book here.

Years ago, just before the grand opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland, Walt Disney and his top aides took what was planned to be the final test “drive” before opening it to the public. If you’re familiar with the ride, you’ll recall that it begins with your boat drifting through a quiet, nighttime bayou scene.

Moments after the ride began Walt suddenly cried out, “Stop! There’s something wrong here. I can’t place it – but something doesn’t look right!”

Everyone looked around, and furrowed their brows, but no one could put their finger on the problem.  Walt persisted, “I just know something’s missing. We’re missing something.”

Someone remembered a busboy who worked at the restaurant that overlooks the artificial bayou. Perhaps they should ask him? After all, he’d grown up on the real bayou in Louisiana. They sent for him, and sure enough, he figured it out in a few seconds.

“There are no fireflies,” he said. “If this was a real bayou, you’d have thousands of ‘em.”

Walt delayed the opening until thousands of artificial fireflies could be assembled and installed.

Often, there are things you can add to an experience which might not have been missed by the casual observer, but on some level, enhance everything. Meetings are no exception. I call these things “fireflies.” Here are some meeting fireflies I’ve seen used with great effectiveness:

  • Small bowls of candy or mints on the table.
  • Gimmicks and toys for a bit of fun–Nerf balls, pliable Gumby figures, stress balls, etc.
  • An egg-timer to assist with timekeeping. When an issue is first brought up, the Timekeeper sets the time.
  • A device that continually tracks the amount of money being spent for the meeting, similar to the National Debt sign on Wall Street.
  • Copies for everyone of an article that someone found interesting, which may have nothing to do with the actual agenda of the day.

Here are two unique fireflies that I saw first-hand. Both went on to become legendary in their organizations.

One group had developed the habit of “beating a dead horse” when discussing critical issues in ongoing meetings. They had agreed to stop this time-wasting pattern, but it persisted. One day, someone made a trip to a toy store, purchased a small plastic horse, and brought it to the next meeting.

Soon enough, the group began going around in circles. Quietly, he pulled the toy horse from his briefcase and slid it across the conference table. “We’re doing it again, folks!”

Everyone began laughing–and the cycle was broken. From that day on, if the group slipped into its old behavior, someone would get the horse and toss it on the table. Problem solved.

Different group–nearly the same idea, but their issue was dancing around the “elephant in the room.” You guessed it–someone brought in a cute, plush stuffed elephant. With the prop, someone could say, “I think there’s an elephant in the room.”

It cut the tension while keeping the focus on something important.

Do you have to provide fireflies at your meetings? I suppose not. After all, the group won’t notice something they weren’t expecting. And, after all, they will add a bit of expense, and extra work to create them. Are they really worth it?

Ask Walt Disney.

“What ELSE Your Boss Never Told You” is the sequel to the very popular “What Your Boss Never Told You.” Packed inside are more tips, techniques, and insights about the challenging, but rewarding leadership position.

“What ELSE Your Boss Never Told You” is written in a conversational tone, as though you and the author were enjoying a cup of coffee and talking about the issues that emerge for new leaders. It stands alone, and/or could be read before or after the first volume, “What Your Boss Never Told You.” You can start with any chapter and read in any order you like.

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No textbook here – this book is short and sweet. It’s designed to help you “unpack” your new job and be effective from the first day with your new team. It contains twenty-one chapters filled with the wisdom Winters has gathered from real managers – effective, successful leaders in organizations much like yours.

Leaders make decisions every day – big and small. Most know that if they include others in the decision-making process, the quality of those decisions – and the commitment to them – will likely improve. That said, they also know it’s impractical, if not impossible, to include others in every decision they confront.

“To Do or Not To Do” tackles the question of when to make decisions on your own, and when to involve your team. It gives you a deceptively simple but proven method to determine, when you are facing a difficult decision, how to decide how to decide.

Far too many meetings are dreadful, mind-numbing, energy-draining, productivity-sapping, colossal wastes of time. As someone once said, “To kill time, a meeting is the perfect weapon.”

Here’s the deal: if you’re willing to learn and apply the techniques in “So, How Was Your Meeting?”, you’ll call fewer meetings, while vastly improving the ones you do lead. They’ll take less time, have more balanced participation, produce better decisions, and result in concrete action items for follow-up afterwards.

While there are thousands of books written for people about to retire, this may be the only book for people who manage soon-to-retire employees. Written in a casual, conversational style, “Managing the Soon To Retire Employee” will give you everything you need to know to move forward with confidence and grace.

You can be successful with Sooners. It won’t happen by chance, and it’s not a matter of pulling some management “trick” out of your hat. But you can learn how to do it, and you can apply what you’ve learned right away.

Managing friends or former peers can be awkward. When you become the boss, everything about these relationships can suddenly be uncomfortable. There’s a new set of ground rules to establish – as manager, you are going be accountable for the work performance of friends or former co-workers on the team, and they are going to have to adjust to the fact that they now report to you. Everyone involved can feel awkward and hesitant about the future. 

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If so, you’ve come to the right place. Help! They Want to Make ME a Supervisor will help you sort out a very big question: Should you accept the offer to become a supervisor? Once you’ve read this book, you’ll be confident that you’ve made the best decision for you and for your organization.