There are a couple of new buzz words going around in the corporate world these days: inclusive meetings. But what are they and how are they different from regular ol’ meetings?
In reality, inclusive meetings are not something new and magical but rather describe what meetings should have always been in a perfect world. They are simply meetings in which all of your team members have a voice and feel empowered to actively contribute.
Why Should All Organizations Run Inclusive Meetings?
Inclusive meetings ultimately open the door to a diversity of thought. When your people can freely share their ideas, regardless of their role or personality style, you gain perspective that can help you solve problems, innovate, and reach new goals.
It sounds simple enough. And yet, if you’ve sat in enough meetings, you know that generally, the same people speak up, some of them interrupting others, while everyone else stares at the clock. Hardly productive!
The following tips will help you prepare for an inclusive meeting, host one, and follow-up afterwards.
The planning phase should NOT be overlooked. Taking the following steps will help you set the tone for your meeting. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Categorize Your Attendees
Inevitably, there are those employees that attend so many meetings, it cuts back on their actual productivity. At the same time, there are those employees that are rarely invited to meetings and feel left out.
You definitely don’t want to waste your staff’s time, but you also don’t want to have team members feel out of the loop.
How do you strike a healthy balance?
By placing your employees into two separate categories:
- Those who absolutely NEED to be at the meeting because their input is vital for reaching outcomes.
- Those whose attendance isn’t essential but who may potentially benefit from attending.
When you send out your invitations, simply mark that second group’s attendance as ‘optional.’ This will allow everyone to feel included and join if they’d like.
Share Your Meeting Agenda and Expectations in Advance
It’s important that attendees know what your meeting is about beforehand. This allows team members to think and prepare to share ideas, questions and concerns, but also helps everyone understand time restraints.
Make Your Team Co-Creators
It’s a good idea to let your team members contribute in advance of the meeting. For example, you could send polls or submit potential topics for discussion or ask questions via internal communication channels like Slack.
This is incredibly helpful because it allows you to obtain insights from people who may not be able to attend the meeting as well as those team members who may be a bit shy or not as vocal as others. All too often, great ideas are lost in the noise of those few outspoken attendees.
Appoint a Meeting Facilitator
Someone needs to lead your meeting and steer it toward a positive outcome. A meeting facilitator can break the ice at the beginning, keep the meeting on track, follow the agenda, and facilitate meaningful discussions. Meeting facilitators are particularly helpful when hosting hybrid meetings.
Try and appoint different people for each meeting to get a variety of meeting leaders. But be sure they are up for the job. If someone is just too shy, don’t force that role on them.
Set Some Guidelines
The truth is, hosting an inclusive meeting takes an “all hands on deck” approach. Everyone is responsible for creating an inclusive space.
To help your team begin to think inclusively, set some ground rules that will act as a meeting playbook.
Now, your guidelines will be based on the size of your meeting and your specific objectives, but here are some general ideas to get you started:
- Consider having a time limit on presentations so no one is talking for too long.
- Be mindful of remote participants and think about having a “remote-first” rule where your online team members may be the first to contribute. All-too-often, remote workers are left out.
- Avoid side conversations in the room. These lead to great distractions.
- Have your meeting facilitator remind the group of your rules at the beginning of each meeting.
Open the Floor to Everyone
During the meeting, don’t ask only those one or two outspoken people their opinions, ask everyone in the meeting. To reduce a speaking frenzy, you may want to employ some technology that will help you use a ranking poll or multiple-choice poll in the moment. This will help get everyone involved in the decision-making process and foster a more democratic culture.
This also saves a lot of time so the discussion can move forward.
For instance, let’s say during the meeting you’ve just shared a new strategy or new design proposal. Instead of opening the floor up to a discussion to get everyone’s spoken feedback (which can eat into your allotted meeting time), send out a quick poll right then and there to get immediate feedback.
People often feel self-conscious about asking questions during meetings, worried they might look silly in front of colleagues. Some team members may simply be too shy while others are so considerate, they feel bad chiming in with questions.
By using a Q&A app, meeting attendees can safely and easily ask questions. At the end of the meeting, these questions can then be displayed on-screen giving everyone a chance to address them.
Ask for Feedback
Hosting 100% perfectly inclusive meetings isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. You will need to tweak and adjust along the way. One of the best ways to make the necessary adjustments is through active listening. And one of the BEST ways to do that is ask for feedback from your staff. Use a handy feedback survey that implements a star rating and asks attendees what they would improve.
Record and Send
It’s a good idea to record your meetings and have someone type up the minutes. Send this out after the meeting to all employees so even those people who could not attend are kept in the loop.
One of the absolute best ways to ensure your meetings are inclusive is to stay organized so everyone can find all of the information they need when they need it. Create a well-organized team folder in Slack or whatever internal comms channel you use to allow easy access of important meeting information.
You will also want to appoint someone as official “keeper of this folder” who will collect all of the important resources and organize them into subfolders.
By following these tips, you can easily begin transforming your meetings into inclusive experiences for your team. And if you need any help with planning and hosting your meetings, just give us a shout!
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