Nobody loves conference room meetings. They’re the most boring part of your week, and no impassioned speech about how crucial they are to building team chemistry can change your mind.
Over a year ago, Tim Mertz, the director of recreation at MIT, decided these conference room meetings were too monotonous and counterproductive to the energy and camaraderie that a leadership team should be developing.
His solution was to substitute every other biweekly leadership meeting with an optional workout.
Each workout is hosted by a different area of the campus recreation department, and these workouts are meant to build team cohesion while also growing understanding of campus recreation programming.
Plus, it gets them out of the conference room.
Campus Rec spoke with Mertz about his inspiration for making such a drastic change to his meeting format and the results that change has yielded and will yield in future months:
CR: What inspired you to make such a dynamic change to leadership meetings?
TM: It really started two years ago. We do biweekly leadership team meetings and at those leadership team meetings, there are directors, assistant directors and managers from all the different program areas. Over the course of several years, we had pretty standard format, and everybody’s expectations were pretty much aligned. But beginning last year, we changed it up a little bit, and every other leadership team meeting we took a deep dive into each one of the different program areas. For example, the aquatics team would host a meeting on the pool deck and they would expose the rest of the team to all the back-of-the-house operations. The goal here was to give our entire leadership team a better and broader understanding of the entire campus rec operation, because all too often the aquatics people stay in the aquatics house, and the fitness people stay in the fitness house. So we did that for a year, and each department took a lead.
CR: How did the idea evolve after that first year?
TM: As we came into this year, I thought, “OK, well we’ve already seen the back of the house and the team understands that now. Let’s expose the team to the front of the house. What are our participants, our members and our students experiencing?” I wanted to ensure that our staff has those same experiences, because the goal here is to give them a broader understanding of the programming experience. We created a schedule so that [in] every other leadership team meeting, each of the program areas would conduct a program for us. It started with the spin class, then we did a CrossFit class, the next one will be squash. And then we’ll be doing an aquatics class.
CR: Were there immediate results that you saw?
TM: What’s happened now, it’s activated the team. They’re now experiencing programs at the participant level, and it gives them a broader perspective of what that looks like. It also educates them, so it’s almost become a form of professional development. When they’re interacting with students, faculty or staff, they can speak more intelligently about what a CrossFit experience is really like. And the instructions that I gave the team in preparation for facilitating these experiences was to first make it instructional. I want everybody to understand what it takes to program CrossFit or to program a spin class. And second, I want it to be experiential. Let’s actually get our heart rates up, let’s get a little sweat going and let’s really understand what it’s like to be a participant in these programs. And that’s kind of where it’s gone. I can say is there is a direct correlation between heart rate and high fives. When we were sitting in the conference room, our heart rates were low and there were no high fives. Now all of a sudden, we’re getting them active, we’re getting them into the program areas, the heart rates are rising, and it was pretty cool to see the camaraderie and the cohesiveness among the team grow and build.
CR: How has your leadership team responded?
TM: One of the expectations I set among the whole team was that all of these will be optional. I won’t require the entire team to attend every one of these. I wanted to be sensitive to peoples’ comfort levels. Not everybody is comfortable in a bathing suit among their peers. So for that reason, they’re all optional, and I think the staff appreciates the flexibility. There’s a little bit of a challenge by choice — they can push themselves as far as they feel comfortable pushing themselves within the context of this new environment. And then, we’re getting some feedback from the team. Some of them really enjoyed CrossFit, some of them really enjoyed spin, some of them realized they didn’t enjoy the spin class as much as they thought they would. But what’s important to me is the fact that they actually experienced it, and they can now formulate these opinions and they have the experience to draw on when they’re at conferences or talking with colleagues, or interacting with students, staff and alumni on campus. And to be quite candid, I think they’re happy to be out of the conference room.
CR: What results have you seen from the workout meetings? And what results are you hoping to see?
TM: In terms of what results I’m hoping to see, I’m hoping to see a stronger bond and connection among the staff itself, a greater appreciation for the level of effort and coordination it takes to run and facilitate these programs, and then, perhaps most importantly, that broader awareness, perspective and firsthand experience of what it’s like being a participant in the programs that we run.
CR: Any other advice for campus rec departments who want to energize their leadership meetings?
TM: I don’t know if this is advice or it’s a realization, but we’ve got over 470,000 square feet of facility space we program in, and I know not all of our staff steps foot into each one of those program spaces. And so by doing this, it does expose our entire team to all the spaces and all the programs. I can only imagine only good will come from that. So, while it takes a little bit of a commitment to break up the normal leadership team meeting routine, I think the reward at the end will be worth the effort it takes to coordinate this year’s activities.