Inclusive meetings can help build a culture that encourages employees to share their ideas, make important decisions, and work towards a common goal – whether they’re in the physical office or working remotely.
Meetings are a core part of every organisation's operations, but what if we told you not everyone on your team who attends a meeting feels like they can speak up?
More companies are having important conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion and it's inspiring a whole new layer of behaviours that help make meetings more accessible and inclusive – and therefore, effective.
Here are five rules to keep in mind when running more inclusive meetings in an increasingly virtual world.
Rule #1: Only invite those who absolutely need to be there – but make sure it's a diverse list
Filling employees' time with meetings at the expense of more important work can disproportionately affect certain people within the workplace, for example, those who have trouble saying "no."
You can start to have more efficient meetings within your organisation by carefully screening who you're inviting to each meeting. First, ask if it's essential that this individual attends, or if it would be a better use of their time to not invite them. Make it the new normal to uninvite yourself or opt out if you find that your presence is not vital.
Second, ask if you're including a diverse range of perspectives and experiences. In some workplace cultures, there can be negative meeting behaviours that exclude people from meetings even when they're integral to making important decisions.
Rule #2: Provide an agenda in advance
The most effective meetings bring a group of informed and prepared people into one room to discuss and make a decision. But the people you invite cannot be informed or prepared if they do not know what's on the agenda.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure everyone feels safe to contribute their ideas and opinions is to make sure there's nothing surprising or vague about the purpose of the video conference or phone call. And in support of the first rule mentioned above, providing an agenda in advance also offers everyone the chance to decide whether or not they really need to attend.
Rule #3: Build in alternative forms of communication
We're now more culturally aware than ever before that the modern workplace favours the person who is confident – who has very few qualms about sharing their ideas. Inclusive meetings ensure that everyone's voice matters, even if a person isn't comfortable speaking up in front of a group or fighting to be heard.
Provide alternative methods of communication so that everyone can contribute in the way they are most comfortable, whether that's through video or chat. Here are a few ideas to ensure everyone's voice is heard during a meeting:
- Speaking up during the meeting independently
- Being invited to speak up during a planned pause at the end of every discussion point
- Encouraging text-based contributions added to the chat box of a conference
- Allowing contributors to send their first and last thoughts via email before or after a meeting takes place
Rule #4: Ask for feedback from all of your team members
One of the most foundational characteristics of bias is that we can't see what we can't see. There may be problematic or negative meeting behaviours going on within your organisation that you don't see as clearly as others do.
As a leader or manager, it's critical that you offer ways for employees to provide feedback anonymously about how meetings are going and what could be improved. This gives employees who experience bias or discrimination a chance to flag it for you if you've missed it.
Rule #5: Practice what you preach
As a manager, sometimes it can feel like you're waiting for others to improve their behaviour before you can see change, but in reality, a leader needs to set the example first.
When you take the initiative to learn how to be a good listener, redirect the conversation back to someone who has been interrupted, or credit someone's idea back to them when it's at risk of being lost, you are creating positive change within your company culture.
An effective meeting helps align your strategy, coordinates your efforts, and reinvigorates your team. A bad meeting does the opposite – it frustrates high performers, distracts from essential tasks, and wastes valuable time.