Meetings are a core part of every organization's operations, whether your team is in the office, working remotely, or partially distributed.
But what if we told you not everyone on your team who attends a meeting feels like they can speak up? Or that some people on your team are self-conscious about the less-than-luxurious background of their Zoom calls?
In reality, the traditional approach to meetings heavily favors the actions of the outgoing, confident Alpha. But the workplace culture increasingly addresses conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And it's inspiring a whole new layer of meeting hygiene to help make meetings more accessible and inclusive - and therefore effective.
As your organization continues to navigate the maze of daily standups, Zoom all-hands, and Slack check-ins, here are five new rules for running more inclusive meetings:
Rule #1. Only invite those who absolutely need to be there - but make sure it's a diverse list
"Meeting bankruptcy," or filling one's time with meetings at the expense of more important work, is another example of modern office housework that can disproportionately affect certain people within the workplace - people who are inclined to people-please or who have trouble saying no.
You can start to build better meeting hygiene within your organization by carefully screening who you're inviting to each meeting.
First, ask yourself if it's essential that they attend, or if it would be a better use of their time to not invite them. Make it the new norm to un-invite yourself or opt out if you find that your presence is not vital.
Second, ask yourself if you are including a diverse range of perspectives and experiences. In some workplace cultures, there can be negative meeting behaviors that exclude people from meetings even when they're integral to making decisions about the topic.
Related: How Remote Work Policies Encourage Diversity
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, and they can't feel safe either.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure everyone feels safe to contribute is to make sure there is nothing surprising or vague about the purpose of the video conference or phone call. And in support of Rule #1, providing an agenda in advance also offers everyone the chance to decide whether or not they really need to attend.
Related: How to Manage Teams When Working Remotely
Rule #3. Build in alternate forms of communication
We're now more culturally aware than ever before that the modern workplace favors the person who is confident - who has very few qualms about interjecting loudly and sharing their ideas. But good 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.
After providing an agenda in advance so that those who require more preparation to feel comfortable can do so, provide alternatives to the traditional way to contribute. Build in different forms of communication into your meeting so that everyone can contribute in the way they are most comfortable, whether that's with or without video, by text or chat, or all of the above. These options may include….
- Speaking up during the meeting independently
- Being invited to speak up during a planned pause at the end of every discussion point
- Including text-based contributions added to the chat box of a video conference
- Allowing contributors to send 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. It follows that there may be problematic or negative meeting behaviors going on within your organization that you don't see as clearly as others do.
As a leader or manager, it's critical that you offer a private way for employees to provide feedback 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, even if you've missed it.
Learn more: What Is Employee Engagement & Why Does It Matter
Rule #5. Practice what you preach
As a leader or manager, sometimes it can feel like you're waiting for others to improve their behavior before you can see change. But in reality, your presence and example is one of the most powerful influencers in improving meeting hygiene.
When you take the initiative to learn how to be a good listener, redirect the conversation back to someone who's 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.
A good meeting aligns your strategy, coordinates your efforts, and refreshes your team on where they're headed. A bad meeting does the opposite - it frustrates high performers, distracts from essential tasks, and wastes tons of time every year. It's time to stop settling for ineffective, inequitable meeting practices, and we hope these tips inspire you to do so!