Although most of us spend time meetings – virtual or live, small or large – they aren’t always inclusive spaces. In fact, they can sometimes be really exclusive, and that exclusivity can not just influence decisions and outcomes but also negatively impact motivation and team morale. Meetings can be impacted by a hierarchy of sorts. At the top are those who clearly feel included because they tend to be more heard, valued and influential while those at the bottom tend to have less impact and often feel less included in the discussion.
A range of factors might impact who feels included and who doesn’t. These factors could include front of mind DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) elements like race, cultural background and gender, but other qualities like age, academic background and introversion/extroversion level can also impact whether someone feels included and valued. Yet if you’re intentional, there are clear strategies that leaders or any meeting participant can use to make meetings more inclusive.
One small way to help everyone build stronger relationships and encourage inclusivity is by incorporating tiny relationship building elements into standard agenda items, like introductions. Instead of asking each person to just share their name and title, ask them to also share an interesting fact that might reveal unexpected areas of commonality or connection. Consider questions like these:
- What was your first paid job?
- What is something on your bucket list?
- What is your proudest personal achievement?
- What was the first record you bought?
Encourage a balanced input
Too many meetings are dominated by the loudest, most extroverted voices in the room, but unfortunately just because someone is loud doesn’t mean that their perspective is shared by others. This is a key reason why it’s important to use practical techniques to encourage more balanced participation. One great way to do just that is to avoid the reflexive impulse to allow free-for-all discussion on all topics and instead selectively use a more round robin style process to ensure everyone is heard. With this process the facilitator would go “around the table” (either literally or virtually) asking each person to offer brief feedback on the topic at hand.
Ask participants to document ideas before sharing
This is another simple technique that can create a more level playing field for meeting contributions. Before discussing an important topic, ask each attendee to simply write down their points. For example, if the meeting goal is to identify ways to improve customer satisfaction, give each participant Post-it notes and ask them to write down their top 2-3 ideas (or if the meeting is virtual, ask them to write it in the chat). This only takes a couple minutes, but it provides a way for everyone to contribute equally. It also creates a space for participants to form their own, independent ideas without being impacted by others’ views. Once participants have documented their own ideas, each person can share one of their ideas verbally.
One way to build team cohesion and inclusiveness is by encouraging meeting participants to acknowledge others’ ideas. While quieter participants may not speak as much, they may have great ideas, and they should be acknowledged. While those who dominate discussions receive a type of validation through the process of contributing and being heard, this practice recognises quality of contribution as well by encouraging acknowledgement of the most interesting and innovative ideas. Indeed, peer recognition can be a powerful way to not just reward contributions real time but also provide the foundations for relationship building within the team.