Inclusive meetings boost innovation, decision making and business results. By actively involving all participants, you unlock a wealth of diverse ideas, insights and solutions. Inclusive meetings promote creativity, innovation and problem-solving. As different perspectives are shared, the group elevates their thinking and grows beyond status quo superficial ideas and solutions. Inclusive meetings contribute to a positive and inclusive culture, where individuals feel respected, valued and more engaged.
Yet, most meetings aren’t inclusive. How do you know if your meeting is exclusive?
- The same people dominate discussions
- People are interrupted frequently
- The right people aren’t in the room
- It’s all presentation and no discussion
- There is a lack of clear next steps and purpose
The role of a meeting facilitator is critical to inclusive meetings. The challenge is most people aren’t trained or developed to have inclusive meetings. They learn non-inclusive behaviors modeled by other leaders and perpetuate the same vicious cycle.
Consider these 10 prompts to drive more inclusion as a facilitator:
- Have you shared and asked for feedback on the meeting’s purpose and agenda in advance?
- Is everyone at the meeting necessary to fulfill the purpose? (marking people optional on a meeting is a great best practice)
- Do you have an inclusive icebreaker exercise to kick off?
- Is discussion necessary to debate, brainstorm or problem solve vs. present only?
- Do you have mechanisms (polls, chat, notes) to facilitate discussion?
- Have you set norms to rotate speaking roles so that everyone feels psychologically safe speaking at the meeting?
- Are you rotating note-taking responsibilities from previous meetings?
- Do you have a plan to facilitate discussion if team members do not speak up or speak too much?
- Did you set the next steps and assign them to team members?
- Do you have an accountability plan to ensure the next steps are completed prior to the next meeting?
If you didn’t fair well on the checklist, you’re not alone. Most meetings do not reach 50% of this criteria most of the time. To boost inclusion at your next meeting, consider these ideas:
- Have a pre-work exercise to stimulate thinking in advance
- Start the meeting with an icebreaker to learn more about team members
- Rotate key roles intentionally at the meeting to evenly distribute participation
Related: Make Sure Your Meetings Don’t Waste Everyone’s Time by Doing These 10 Things
Have a pre-work exercise to stimulate thinking in advance
Sometimes, people may feel hesitant to speak up during meetings due to time constraints or fear of being put on the spot. Encourage more introverted participants to share their ideas or questions before the meeting, either through email or collaboration tools. This approach provides an opportunity for everyone to contribute, even if they’re not comfortable speaking up during the meeting itself.
It’s a good idea to keep timing in mind. Limit pre-work to a task that takes no more than 10 minutes with clear expectations such as reading this article and coming prepared to discuss your biggest takeaway or watching this video and picking one example that resonated with you and works well. This starts the meeting on an equal playing field where all team members are prepared to engage.
Start the meeting with an icebreaker to learn more about team members
For an icebreaker to be inclusive, be mindful of the implications of class, race, gender and other dimensions of diversity. Even well-intentioned icebreakers can reinforce stereotypes or preclude people from the very conversation they’re hoping to create. For example, travel experiences or activities that require socioeconomic status can be limited to participants and may be of a lower class which is often correlated to other dimensions of diversity.
Examples of inclusive icebreakers could be a short simple share about a positive event that happened at work, something people might misunderstand or not know about you yet, or a two-word emotional check-in on how your day is going. These quick shares generate discussion and make it more likely that team members will participate inclusively in the remainder of the meeting.
Related: Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
Rotate key roles intentionally at the meeting to evenly distribute participation
Non-promotable tasks or administrative tasks like note-taking, food preparation or social event organization largely fall on women and people of color. Watch out for how these important yet not highly valued tasks are distributed. A best practice is to be mindful of the administrative tasks necessary for the meeting to be successful and intentionally rotate them to different people each time. If someone says they’re not good at taking notes, ask them to practice and learn. Set the norm for everyone to participate in these tasks. This has a ripple effect on fairness and respect as people learn that everyone’s role is equally valued.
By intentionally distributing these responsibilities, you create a more inclusive dynamic where everyone has an opportunity to contribute beyond their designated roles. It also helps challenge traditional power dynamics and fosters a sense of shared ownership and accountability.
Inclusive meetings are not just a buzzword; they are a powerful tool for unlocking the full potential of your team or group. By actively involving all participants, valuing diverse perspectives and creating a safe and respectful environment, you can harness the collective intelligence and creativity of your team. As a meeting facilitator, it’s crucial to be mindful of inclusive practices, rotate roles and responsibilities and create opportunities for everyone to contribute. By embracing inclusivity, you can drive innovation, better decision-making and improved business results.
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