Your team leaves the conference room after a meeting and in their collective sigh, you hear: “Another meeting that could have been an email.” Some members of the group take the opportunity to catch up and talk excitedly as they go back to their desks. Other team members look tired and drained. You feel the meeting could have gone better, but you’re struggling to get input from some team members while others share openly and enthusiastically. Sometimes the meeting gets brainstormed off-course. Frequently, the objectives aren’t met by the end which necessitates yet another meeting. And so the cycle continues.
You chose this team for the individual strengths that they bring to the table, but getting all those strengths to show up in meetings and daily interactions has been an enormous challenge. And when the pandemic forced meetings into the virtual world, it suddenly became even harder to hear from everyone and to run meetings effectively and inclusively.
In general, there are four types of meetings people experience in the course of their workday: informational, problem-solving, brainstorming and morale- or behavior-focused meetings. While all of these meetings have different objectives and need to be approached in different ways, the common denominator is your people. From how you set up the meeting to who gets to run it, there are ways you can be kinder and more inclusive for those times when just an email won’t do.
Create Meaningful Agendas
Research shows that too many meetings can undermine employee well-being, while meetings with unclear purpose and vague objectives can contribute to on-the-job stress and decreased productivity. In light of this, it’s paramount to the success of your team and the work they are doing that you avoid the trap of just “meeting for the sake of meeting.”
Whether your meeting is in-person or virtual, preparation and planning have an enormous impact on the engagement levels. Perhaps the best way to encourage people to show up and be present is to infuse meaning and purpose into the activity beforehand, and one way you can do this is by simply sending a thoughtful and thorough agenda with your meeting invitation.
By giving people a sense of purpose and providing an explicitly-stated plan for what needs to be accomplished in a specific amount of time, you are creating safety, trust and meaning even before the meeting begins. This requires some extra effort in the upfront planning but it is well worth the cost of the time spent, especially as it gives your quieter team members vital time to plan, prepare and even compose their thoughts and questions beforehand. That simple act of kindness could significantly increase their participation, and you will likely hear more from them both during and after the meeting.
Provide Alternatives For Giving Input
Speaking of those quieter voices, it’s important to remember that not everyone feels safe speaking up in meetings, and external processing does not come naturally to everyone. With this in mind, one way to be more inclusive is to provide alternate ways your people can give their feedback, input, ideas and suggestions.
Allowing for written follow-up, planning one-on-one meetings, building reflection time into the meeting itself and creating time for Silent Meetings are all effective ways of getting input from those who don’t always want to speak up, but whose ideas and input are still vital to your team’s success.
The reason that many introverts, neurodivergent and other marginalized people don’t speak up has nothing to do with a lack of ideas or engagement, and often everything to do with safety (or lack thereof) in the environment and the pace of the conversation. Good leadership means not letting those whose strengths lie in accuracy over speed get lost, dismissed or ignored in the haste of an extrovert-run meeting.
Delegate To People’s Strengths
If you are aware of individual strengths and wiring of your people—and as a leader, you should be—you can match your meeting objectives with the strengths, styles and expertise of your team members.
And then delegate the running of the meeting to them.
As a leader, you don’t always have to be the one in charge. One rule we live and work by at Three Kindnesses is “We surrender ourselves to the strengths of others.” So when you consider the kind of meeting (see the four types of meetings above) you want or need to have, you should also be considering which team member’s needs, speeds and creeds could be a good fit to run things.
“Blue-skyers” can run brainstorming meetings. Detail-oriented folks should be put in charge of important information dissemination. Your team’s people person can likely run those behavioral meetings with diplomacy and empathy.
When you’re doing this, you’re not just delegating work. You’re encouraging equity, honoring diversity and building new leaders all while getting the necessary work done.
Make Psychological Safety The No. 1 Priority
Once people have a clear agenda and purpose and the meeting is smoothly running under its own power, it can be easy to sit back and just go with the flow, but there is one more piece of the puzzle that needs to be in place for meetings to rise to the level of true inclusion and belonging.
Every meeting, no matter how short or long, big or small, must have psychological safety as its foundation. If there is one element that ties everyone together on teams, regardless of styles, wiring and preferences, it is psychological safety. Protect this at all costs or all of your hard work with agendas, delegating and alternative avenues of input will avail nothing. People must feel safe first. Everything comes easier once people know they are safe to be their authentic selves. No team has ever succeeded without it.
For productive, cost-effective, organized and fun meetings, start with kindness. Your team will thank you.
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