11 million meetings are held every day, according to some reports.
Middle managers spend about 35% of their time in meetings, while those in upper management spend 50% of their time in meetings, in statistics cited by Themuse.com
So the key question is: how do you encourage active participation in team meetings?
Meetings are a crucial part of collaboration and decision-making within organisations. However, all too often, meeting participants find themselves disengaged and uninterested, leading to unproductive time. Encouraging active participation in meetings is essential for generating innovative ideas, building teamwork, and achieving successful outcomes.
We explore 10 practical strategies to create an engaging and participatory meeting environment, as well as discuss common mistakes made by meeting facilitators and how to overcome them.
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1. The meeting starts before the meeting:
Lay the foundations before the meeting begins. Be intentional with the meeting’s purpose and set clear objectives. Determine who needs to be present vs. needs to know, and send meeting invites to only those individuals, ensuring that everyone in attendance has a meaningful contribution to make. Change up the environment and don’t assume you have to be sitting down in the same room each time. Collaboratively create the meeting agenda to establish clarity and shared ownership.
2. Respect working hours and time zones:
When scheduling meetings, consider the working hours of participants in different time zones. Avoid early morning or late-night sessions whenever possible, as this can lead to reduced engagement. Show respect for everyone’s time by being mindful of their availability.
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3. Be intentional with expectations:
Aim to be effective, not only efficient. Share clear expectations with participants regarding their involvement in the meeting. Communicate the desired outcomes and encourage them to come prepared with questions, ideas, or prepare specific tasks. Consider assigning pre-meeting tasks or providing a theme to stimulate creativity and engagement.
4. Create an inclusive and safe environment:
An effective team leader should develop qualities such as active listening, empathy, and the ability to create a safe and inclusive space. Develop an environment where participants feel comfortable sharing ideas, can talk about their thoughts and opinions without fear of judgement, and can even admit mistakes. Encourage people who are holding back or don’t feel comfortable, and create equal participation by implementing conversational turn-taking techniques, break outs in small groups, and actively seeking input from diverse voices, not only from the people who tend to speak most of the time. This is particularly important in challenging meetings, where you need to create positive disagreement or handle conflict.
5. Kick off with celebration and acknowledgements:
Starting the meeting on a positive note by celebrating wins and acknowledging individual and team successes. This helps create a positive atmosphere and motivates participants to actively engage throughout the session.
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6. Allow time for personal sharing and appreciations:
7. Consider alternative ways to contribute:
Offer various feedback channels and encourage meaningful responses with alternative methods of contribution, including unmuted discussions, anonymous tools, quiet brainstorming or collaboration tools. This ensures psychological safety within the meeting, allows participants to share their thoughts and contribute in a way that suits their communication style and encourages creativity.
8. Minimise distractions and multitasking:
Apparently, up to 92% of employees find themselves multitasking at some point during meetings. Ensure that participants are fully present by discouraging multitasking and minimising distractions such as laptops and mobile devices. Encourage everyone to be fully ‘in the room’ and engaged in the meeting, as multitasking can lead to the need to repeat communication, reduced productivity and even wasted time, which is frustrating for everyone in the team.
9. Effective decision-making and follow-up:
At the end of the meeting, clearly define the next steps and if you have enough information to make a decision now or later. Ensure that participants leave the meeting with a sense of purpose and understanding of their individual responsibilities and actions. Follow up after the meeting to reinforce this and ensure progress is being made.
10. Making virtual and hybrid work:
Keep meetings shorter, allow time for virtual networking and getting to know each other, increase engagement and encourage participation with polls, votes and other virtual collaboration tools. It is even more important in virtual and hybrid meetings to aim for an equal share of voice for all, so cameras on for those joining remotely is a must, and make sure everyone present in the office is fully visible on screen.
Creating an engaging and participatory meeting environment requires intentional planning, effective facilitation, and a commitment to inclusivity. By implementing the strategies shared, you can transform your meetings into productive and collaborative sessions that drive innovation and enhance teamwork. Remember, active participation is not only beneficial for the success of the meeting but also for the overall growth and success of the organisation.