Inclusive Meetings


Running meetings is hard. Running meetings that give all team members a sense of belonging is even harder. Here's how to be inclusive. 

AND I NEED THIS... WHY?

Studies have shown that many people (e.g., remote workers, women, introverts, etc.) have difficulty contributing and being heard in meeting settings.

Additional studies show that even when they do speak up, women are far more likely to be interrupted in meetings, have their ideas taken less seriously, and even co-opted by other teammates.

Enabling these workers to speak up and be heard is beneficial to all parties involved, and a good meeting facilitator is the person for the job.

WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED?

All meeting attendees. Inclusivity is a team sport!

 

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Any team can (and should!) hold inclusive meetings – here's how.
People

4 - 7

Prep time

15 min

Time

30 - 60 min

Difficulty

Medium

Running the play

For this play, don't focus too much on the step-by-step. Think of it as a set of principles and tools you can use to ensure balanced participation at your next meeting. 

MATERIALS
  • Whiteboard or butcher's paper 
  • Markers
  • Sticky notes
  • Timer
PREP

Prep (30 mins)

Your job prior to the meeting is to give underrepresented voices the opportunity to express opinions early on, keep the group lean and less intimidating, and provide time and headspace for all voices to be heard.

1. Write a detailed meeting agenda and send it to all participants at least 24hrs in advance.
List agenda items as questions, not generic topics, and encourage participants to come prepared. This gives introverts a chance to process information outside of the pressure of a loud social setting. Enlist allies (e.g., men, extroverts, etc.) to lead by example and hold them accountable for making space for their female, remote, and introverted counterparts to contribute.

2. Be selective with meeting invitees.
The more people present, the harder for everyone to contribute. The agenda should help invitees ascertain whether they need to be at this meeting. Ensure invitees understand that if they aren't directly involved or don't feel they have something to contribute, they should decline the invite (and if necessary, direct you to anyone else who should be there).

3. Budget enough time to cover everything on the agenda.
Time pressure makes meetings more efficient, but too much time pressure eclipses the opinions of less vocal participants. Ensure there's enough time for everyone to voice their opinions, build on others' opinions, and reach a conclusion together. 

STEP 1

Set the stage (5 min)

Use equal seating to suggest equal value
Ensure everyone's sitting around the table comfortably. If some people are gathered at one end, spread them out evenly so everyone can be seen and heard. If you're feeling bold, try taking this principal to the extreme. Instead of piping in remote pariticpants as giant heads on TV screens, make the meeting fully remote, where even the colocated attendees dial in from their desks.

Make everyone feel welcome
Briefly introduce everyone, and why each person has been included in this meeting. This helps diffuse initial tensions and helps everyone feel valued and included.

Lay some ground rules
Set a "no talking over each other" rule, and encourage bystanders to speak up and call out interruptions. If there are remote attendees, remind the room to include them and point out any hand-raise feature or message board that everyone should be mindful of.

Explain the meeting structure. For example, you might choose a round-robin style discussion to ensure that every person in the room gets a turn to express themself before you move onto the next topic. Or you might pass around a speaking totem, or squawk a rubber chicken when one person starts monopolising the floor.

Review meeting roles and agenda, clarify any confusion
Explain who's in charge of each agenda item, who's facilitating, and what the meeting goals are.

STEP 2

Team Value Ratings (20 - 40 min)

Pull these tricks out of your hat as the situation warrants. 

Get everyone in on the action
Proactively give less dominant participants the floor by calling on them individually. On remote calls, regularly check if remote participants are able to follow the conversation and contribute.

Interrupt interruptions!
Lead by example and call out when you see someone being inadvertently silenced in a discussion. Encourage others to do the same. Come equipped with phrases like, "Hang on a sec, Fatima – I want to make sure I understand Aniket's point before we add on to it."

If anyone is a repeat offender, take them aside for a moment after the meeting and point it out to them. Assume they're totally oblivious to their behaviors – people rarely act this way on purpose.

Give credit where credit's due
When someone makes a good point, acknowledge their contribution and give public attribution to their ideas. Don't let hijackers get away with appropriation, and highlight when value has been added.

Use the power of the pen
If one person is dominating, ask them to be the scribe. This intrinsically tasks them with listening and creates a space for others.

Write and share
Give everyone time to process the question, jot down thoughts on paper, and share what they've come up with. This gives less vocal participants time to gather their thoughts and ensures they'll be heard.

Clean up as you go
At the end of each agenda topic, pause to agree on next steps and establish specific commitments with clear deadlines. Assign Directly Responsible Individuals (DRI) and rotate the DRI role to ensure the loudest person doesn't receive all of the action items.

ANTI-PATTERN

Putting people on the spot

Don't pressure people to have something meaningful to say on a moment's notice. Instead, ask participants whether they agree with the group's conclusions so far, or if there's anything we haven't yet covered.

STEP 3

Wrap it up (5 min)

Review key points and decisions to make sure everyone is on the same page, then clarify (or reiterate) the next steps and DRIs. 

Finally, take a moment to thank everyone for contributing and highlight the value this meeting created – e.g., "The decisions we made here today will set us up to move a lot faster throughout the rest of the project."

Nailed it?

Be sure to run a full Health Monitor session or checkpoint with your team to see if you're improving.

Find your Health Monitor

Follow-ups

Circulate a follow-up note that captures the key takeaways, action items, and DRIs. This way everyone is in the loop and on the same page (consider that remote participants may not have been able to hear everything perfectly).

Proactively solicit ideas that might’ve come to mind after the meeting. To produce their best work, introverts need time alone to process new information. For example, send out a message along the lines of: “Anyone have a new insight about this situation since we met? If so, I’d love to hear it.”

Keep tabs on action items. Assign someone to check in at appropriate intervals after the meeting to ensure the commitments are being kept, or re-evaluated if something unexpected came up.

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