Getting the mental mode right at your meetings

This article is part 3 of our Workplace Discussion Series.

Astrolabe Group have been taking stock of how our working lives have changed during COVID-19 disruption. This is the first article of a knowledge series exploring what we miss, what we have gained, what we’ve learned from the last three months, and what practices we will take into the future.


This is not an icebreaker!

The icebreaker. Often it’s no more than a polite greeting to commence proceedings with little thought to how it can impact the meeting as a whole – other than to break the ice (hence the title!).

Thinking of activities at the start of an agenda as warm-ups can establish the mindset, mental modes and behaviours to best achieve your meeting objectives. With just a little tweak, these activities can become your superpower.

Think of it this way: when we go to exercise or play a sports game, we warm up. The same should happen when we are starting a meeting or collaboration session. We need to warm up our minds to get the most out our engagement. At global design company IDEO, they describe warm-ups as enabling you to become more self-reflective, tuned-in, empathetic, and intentional about the work you are setting out to do.

Essentially, you want to warm-up or practice the mindset and behaviours you want to be using. A great example is using De Bono’s six thinking hats to start your meeting. The six thinking hats are a useful tool to introduce the different mindsets needed to get diverse perspectives on an issue and in decision making. Each hat addresses a specific attribute:

  • White hat considers facts and figures
  • Red hat considers emotions and feelings
  • Black hat considers the risks, being cautious and careful
  • Yellow hat considers the positives
  • Green hat considers creative thinking
  • Blue hat considers process

Image: De Bono’s 6 thinking hats (source: Shutterstock).

Using this approach for your warm-up, divide participants using the six thinking hats. Each group is tasked to use their ‘hat’ and apply it to the provided scenario (could be a made up challenge or linked to work ahead) using prompts:

  • Black hat: what are the risks,
  • Green hat: throw in some out of the box thinking,
  • White hat: list the facts that we know,
  • Yellow hat: what are the opportunities and benefits,
  • Blue hat: what is the best approach for tackling the issue,
  • Red hat: what are some of the feelings with the content or the process that we should be mindful of?

With this warm-up, you challenge people and get them out of their usual decision making habits.

Once you introduce an activity to set mindset and behaviour, then it isn’t just an icebreaker. Once the team is familiar with the six thinking hats, you can use throughout your meetings. For example, if things are stalling you can prompt “lets put on our green hat, how can we be more creative, what if we had an unlimited budget – what would we do?”.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors even recommends this approach for Board members as part of its Company Directors course.

Use routinely in your approach to collaboration

Setting the right mental mode is important for any meeting, but particularly important as we are engaging more online and are missing other cues and interactions we had when face to face. Putting some effort upfront in setting a shared mindset and required behaviours for everyone will elevate your next meeting whatever the format.

Belinda’s favourite warm-ups:

How to do it Why do itDigital instructions
Squiggly Birds: Start by getting people to draw some squiggly lines on a spare piece of paper. Then, using only simple shapes such as lines and dots, turn your squiggles into birds.
  • Creativity
  • Patterns and sense making
Let people know they need pen and paper
30 Circles: An individual ideation with a piece of paper with 30 circles included, in 3 minutes, try to turn as many circles into recognisable objects.
  • Fast decision making
  • Idea generation
  • Creativity
Send resources ahead of time
1,2,3 ESP: Think scissors paper rock, but instead say 123 and then try to say the same word as your partner at the same time. It’s unlikely to happen the first time, but you can get there with some additional attempts.
  • Fast decision making
  • Patterns and sense making
  • Collaboration
  • Social connection
Taking turns or breakout
No, but…. yes, and: Pose an event that needs to be planned, such as a return to work party, then take turns coming up with an idea. Round one, after each idea the next person says “No, but” and gives the reason it won’t work and provides an alternative. This will be stilted and draining so do round two a bit different, after each idea say “yes, and” to build on the idea. Invite the ridiculous and crazy ideas and prompt along to keep the activity going at pace for best outcomes.
  • Positive mindset
  • Idea generation
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Team building
  • Social connection
Taking turns or breakout

Give them a try at your next meeting!

So, how have you established the right mindsets for your digital meetings?


Belinda Comninos is passionate about bringing creativity and joy to the workplace to bring better outcomes. She’s always on the hunt to expand her toolkit of warm-ups and approaches that will develop positive mental modes to deliver for people and places.