Seven steps for leading efficient, effective and inclusive meetings
Are you getting the most out of your meetings? Are your employees engaged and freely contributing? Are decisions being made in an expeditious way? Chances are your meetings are not accomplishing much. According to a study by Atlassian, people spend 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings. And what do participants do in those meetings? 91% of them daydream, 39% sleep and an astounding 73% do other work. When we look at inclusivity issues, women and men of color are more than twice as likely to be interrupted in a meeting, according to a study by Harvard Business Review. These participants may stop contributing or worse, possibly leave their job. When you think of the decisions made, ideas exchanged and the connections formed in meetings it’s vital to an organization’s success to ensure they are productive and inclusive.
A word about inclusivity. According to the Center for Talent Innovation, inclusive meetings allow everyone a chance to contribute and all voices have equal weight. Inclusivity matters because if it is difficult for women, people of color, introverts and remote workers to easily and safely contribute, your organization is missing out on important ideas and in building a culture of diversity and innovation.
But there is hope. Here are seven steps for holding meetings that actually accomplish something where everyone feels valued and heard. Heck, your gatherings might even be enjoyable.
Have an outcome for your meeting. If you want to avoid meetings that are a waste of time where people wonder why you are meeting it’s paramount you create and share the outcome you want to achieve for the gathering. According to Guila Muir and Associates a great outcome answers the question what will be different at the end of the meeting? Start your outcome with the words “By the end of this meeting we will have…” then add a verb and end it in ed to show completion. For example. “By the end of this meeting we will have provided recommendations for a teleworking policy.” Other verbs could include developed, brainstormed, completed, planned, etc. If you can’t think of an outcome don’t meet! Meetings that are only report outs, such as staff meetings, could probably be completed via email or by an internal newsletter. Think of the time you would save!
Choose with care who is invited to the meeting. More people does not make for a better meeting. When you have a large group it can be difficult for attendees, particularly your quieter members, to share. Another consideration is the seating in the room if you are meeting in person. You want to be sure everyone can sit around the table. When people are forced to sit in outlying chairs, they may feel less important and may not actively participate. If everyone can’t fit at the table, make it so that no one sits at the table. Instead ask attendees to sit in a larger circle away from the table. This will help everyone to feel included and valued.
When possible, make sure you have a mix of people that represent diverse views or ways of thinking– men, women, people of color, introverts, extroverts and different ages. It’s tempting to invite people who are like minded, but when you exclude diverse voices you miss out on unique ways of looking at an issue. And, if you want to reach a diverse customer base you must hear from the voices that represent those groups.
Create and use an agenda. An agenda is a particularly important tool for many reasons. Agendas lay out the topics to be discussed and the outcome to be achieved. They allow invitees time to prepare for the meeting, especially your introverts or those who need time to think through their thoughts. An agenda also helps to keep the meeting on track. The facilitator can bring attention back to the agenda when the discussion veers off topic or goes over time.
Your agenda should include the following:
- The logistics: Date, time, meeting room or virtual meeting information
- The outcome.
- Who is facilitating the meeting – this is important when an assistant or other employee calls the meeting and sends out the agenda but isn’t leading the meeting.
- The invitees
- The discussion topics with the amount of time allotted to each topic and who is leading the topic.
- Expected reading or preparation notes. This can also be stated in the email invitation.
Send your agenda out at least 24 hours, preferably 48 hours before the meeting so that people have time to prepare.
Appoint a notetaker. Notes are important for meeting records and for those invitees who were unable to attend the meeting. They also remind attendees of action items that need to be completed. When choosing the notetaker be careful not to ask the same type of person to handle the duty such as women, introverts or people of color. And, if you ask for volunteers, typically women or introverts will volunteer. Instead appoint someone or draw names from a hat to be fair. If you meet regularly rotate the responsibility so that everyone has a chance to be the notetaker.
Notetaking is not hard. Simply record who attended, decisions made and any action plans or follow-up tasks. State who will do what by what date.
Start the meeting on time. Do you struggle with this? So many people do. Typically, what happens is people show up late and the facilitator waits for everyone to join the meeting before beginning. However, doing so rewards latecomers and is disrespectful to those who do arrive on time. To break this vicious cycle state in the email invitation that the meeting will start promptly at 10:00, or whenever the set time is, and request everyone arrive on time. Then, even if you only have one person in the room start the meeting. Latecomers will see you were serious when you said you would begin on time and eventually will change their tardy ways.
You could also have a reward system. For instance, the first three people to arrive to the meeting by the start time will get something special (i.e.; a coffee gift card or donuts). Make it fun.
Keep the meeting on track. Meandering meetings are frustrating for your participants and a reason they are often unproductive. Keep the group focused on the agenda and your intended outcome. When participants go off on tangents or share unhelpful information jump in and direct them back to the agenda. One way to do that is to use the person’s name, say something that shows you hear what the person is saying and then bring the focus back to the topic. For example: “Jane, I agree, we need more staff recognition events. I’d like to bring us back to discussing the IT requirements for the teleworking policy.” If attendees share useful information that isn’t related to the topic use a parking lot method to capture the topics on a flip chart, white board or notes for discussion at a later time.
End on time. Ending your meeting at the stated hour is just as important as starting on time. People are busy and have other meetings they need to attend. If you’ve almost completed your agenda and need five more minutes, ask the group if they can stay for the extra time. Unless the majority is able to go over time schedule another meeting to complete the agenda. Continually running over time could mean your agendas are too ambitious. Focus on tackling just a few topics or make the meeting time longer.
Here are some additional facilitation tips for making your meeting more inclusive:
Create a variety of ways for people to share. Not everyone is comfortable thinking on their feet or fighting for the floor. One way to encourage more sharing is to provide different methods for attendees to participate. Build in writing time so people can quietly pen their thoughts to share later. Invite attendees to pair up or get in small groups and discuss a topic and select someone to report what was discussed. If you’re meeting virtually, use breakout rooms. You can post topics on flip chart paper or in chat and have attendees share their ideas there.
Model inclusive behavior. If you want your meetings to be inclusive it must start with the facilitator. Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering suggested facilitators have “gracious authority.” Basically, being firm in a diplomatic way.
In your invitation email make it clear you’d like people to come prepared to share their thoughts and to listen as well. Reiterate this at the start of the meeting. If someone is interrupted intervene by saying something like, “Let’s back up a minute. Tina had a great idea about…Tina will you repeat that?” Be sure you as the facilitator are not interrupting those who are typically interrupted – women and men of color – and that you are encouraging a safe place for all voices to be heard.
Stop dominators. Studies by Brigham Young University & Princeton show that men speak 75% more than women in a meeting. If you want inclusive meetings you need to stop those who are dominating and encourage the voices of women and others who are typically given less floor time. Use your gracious authority and say something along the lines of, “Jim, I appreciate your enthusiasm and ideas, I’d like to give others a chance to share. Would you hold back for a while?”
Follow these steps and I guarantee your meetings will be much more productive and inclusive. Your attendees will appreciate your efforts and your organization will most likely benefit greatly from implementing these changes.
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