Dear Dan: How Do I Get My Team to Participate in Meetings
How do I get my team to participate in meetings so that I am not the only one talking.
Looking for participation
Each member on a high performance team talks about the same amount of time as the others. Researchers call this equality of turn-taking.*
Research indicates that team intelligence on high functioning teams exceeds the combined average intelligence of team members. In other words, teams can be smart.**
Don’t blame the team for lack of participation. Take responsibility.
4 ways to invite participation in meetings:
#1. Sharpen the ax. Teams work on the work but seldom work on the team. That’s like chopping a tree down with a dull ax.
- Assign someone to summarize an article or blog on team dynamics and explore two or three ways your team might grow. (Some teams discuss a Leadership Freak article. You might call it the Freak of the Week.)
- Strengthen connection. I take teams through an exercise I call, “When I see you at your best.” Each person hears team members describing their strengths. (Be sure they talk to each other, not you. They must say, “When I see YOU at your best…,” not, “When Barney is at his best.”
#2. Assign agenda items to team members.
“Wilma, would you please come prepared to brief the team on agenda item #2?”
Help team members learn how to give a brief overview and invite input. When you help others, your skills improve.
#3. Create conversation around the table, not to the head of the table.
- “Fred, what comes to mind when you hear Wilma’s input?”
- “Betty, if you were helping Barney with this, what might you say to him?”
#4. Allow for silence.
A team of average players that pulls together will outperform a team of superstars that pulls for themselves.
How might leaders invite participation in team meetings?
*What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team
**Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups
Dan, Great advice as always. Let me add that the book you featured a few weeks ago on meetings addresses how to make meetings worthwhile and effective. I suspect a lot of people don’t participate in meetings because they view them as counter-productive time-sinks. “Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done” offers a compelling remedy with its canoe model for meetings.
If team dynamics are a problem, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is a quick and informative read.
For seeing people at their best, Sally Hoggshead developed a set of Fascination Advantage archetypes to better understand how the world views us when we operate at our best. You can view a copy at https://www.scribd.com/document/260902912/The-49-Personality-Archetypes-Matrix
Thanks Paul. I count on the insights of readers like you to add value to the conversation.
Great post and so timely for me! When you do an exercise like the “when I see you at your best” one, does the leader also participate? (i.e., someone tells the leader when they see her at her best?) Thanks!
One way I have been trying to invite participation is modeling the kind of communication I am hoping to see. This has been especially true when meetings devolve into complaining sessions. I will empathize and then say something like, “I have felt that way also at times. I’ve been trying to shift my thinking to be more positive by doing xxxx.”
Thanks KG and great question. In general, anything you can do to be ONE OF rather than ONE ABOVE will help teams participate more. So, yes, put yourself into the exercise.
As mentioned in the post, you might have a few team members who start talking to you about the the other person. It’s a great opportunity to point them to the person. Make it fun. Give yourself extra time when you do this.
Also, you might say, Let’s have two or three team members say to Mary… When I see you at your best I see you…. This limits the number and protects a new member from feeling bad if they don’t get lots of comments.
You might see more then two or three wanting to participate. Some might jump in. That’s OK… I just don’t want a team struggling to have five people giving someone feedback.
If you don’t mind, I’ll make a suggestion, not offering a solution but asking for input. “I have felt that way also at time. I wonder what suggestions you might have for me?”
Sometimes leaders try to solve too many problems. It show that we value others when we let others solve problems. Just a thought.
Great suggestion. Thanks!
Enjoyed reading this post. One of the things I have done in the past is to have team members rotate developing the agenda and chairing the meeting. Gives them a better appreciation for the process and also develops facilitation skills. Also, I shared with them the book “Read this before our next meeting” by Al Pittampalli. Some good advice about making meetings more effective. P
Brilliant suggestion, Daryl. I just suggested to a leader that he appoint a junior member of the team to lead meetings. I like your approach of rotating.
I wonder if there are times when the leader might not even attend?
Thanks for the book recommendation.
I have found just asking each member going around the table for the viewpoints on the discussion helps, everybody feels needed.
Thanks Tim. Yes, a little round table can be helpful. You might let everyone know you are beginning with the extroverts. That gives the introverts a bit more time to think.
Great topic! Something that widely exists, but is easy to move down the list of priorities. A couple of things that I use:
– Inconspicuously write the initials of your team members on the agenda as they come into the room. As they participate in the meeting, make a mark next to their initials. If half-way through the meeting someone has not contributed, make it a point o ask them for their input.
– Along the line of Dan’s #4 (Allow for silence); as the leader, keep quiet and avoid the practice of “Group Think.”
– And if all else fails… give ’em food! 🙂
Jordan, I love your initial writing strategy! We need systems to help us get where we want to go. You might say, “Hey Mary, I notice you’ve been quiet today. I wonder what your thoughts are … ”
Something that let’s people know what you are noticing might help people realize your values.
My first thought in relation to the “Dear Dan” was a bit tongue in cheek, as in just don’t talk (that the polite version), say you are not going to talk, you want others to do the talking.
“How might leaders invite participation in team meetings?” – have round the table moments, where each has opportunity to talk. At the start of the meeting, have an ‘ice breaker’, preferably a fun one, this can encourage people to relax and be more open, communicative with each other.
Thanks Thinker. Yes!! There’s something useful in declaring yourself. You might say, I’m working to talk less so you can talk more. Or, I’m working to create highly interactive meetings. I’m going to talk less.”
Anything you can do to get people talking to each other will help. Icebreakers included.
Agreed, on the ‘icebreaker’, if you get a good one, they usually help to warm up a room and build rapport before the meeting even starts.
An interesting post and the common anxiety of many at the top management level!
I agree with your second view-point. Assigning agenda and insisting each member to come prepared is the best solution to expect the meeting to be more meaningful and participative. Moreover, always start meeting in time and don’t wait for the top bosses to arrive. Let each member get a chance to speak and contribute well innovatively.
Even, the sitting arrangements play an important role. It’s better to put the name plates prior to the meeting to ensure a well spread group and adequate participation. No centre chair for the Chairperson to dominate the proceedings with a fixed mindset or predetermined plans.
Thank you Dr. Asher. Your suggestion about arranging the room is important. Sit at the side of the table if possible. Although, we should recognize that where ever the leader sits it becomes the head.
Having said that, it’s still worthwhile for the leader to sit on the side. I think it’s a statement.
There is only one thing worse then a meeting and that is a committee. At a after action review I was told to form a committee to deal with a issue. The first thing I did was change its name from committee to task group. I told the other “volunteers” that we are to work on one issue and not get bogged down in the weeds. It worked, maybe to good. We are now a sub group under another committee. The members on the team now think I lied when I said we will only be working on the one issue. Oh well.
Thanks Walt. I like the term task force. It has a sense of being temporary and gives focus. Scope creep makes work more difficult and adds time to the process.
I’ll add that I was surprised that a VP of APPLE said they love meetings at Apple. It really challenged my thinking. When done well they are productive. It’s just that so few meetings are useful.
One rule for good meetings is only the people who are working on the project attend. If you leave the room without a job, you shouldn’t have been in the meeting is a good rule of thumb.
Dan, I think one issue is that in a lot of places the kind of personal investment you suggest in meetings (“When I see you at your best…”) is perceived as a waste of time and effort. Nobody is supposed even to care who Bill is, never mind what he’s best at. He’s there to stand up, speak up and shut up. You’re all in the meeting to tick off agenda boxes, to pass over data, not to interact, build rapport or develop empathy. Since the CFO can’t bank them, they’re worthless. In these places, you don’t WANT your team to participate, just to attend.
I recognize that daily review of these ideas has slowly changed my attitude, attention and openness to being a better leader my team will follow.
Have less meetings to raise the significance of the ones you do have.
In my opinion you have to do this by constantly showing that meetings provide value to your team. Holding a meeting for the sake of it is rarely productive and only convinces people that any future meetings are going to be equally as pointless.
In my view an effective meeting is one that you can get through in 20 minutes or less. Everyone should know the agenda and proposed outcomes before they walk in the door.
Possible round the table, asking each attendee (1) introduce themselves – if not everyone knows everyone. Even though they may be employed by the same organisation, don’t assume all attendee’s know each other (2) why they think they have been invited to the meeting? (3) why they accepted the meeting invite? (4) what they think the objective of the meeting is? (5) what they hope to achieve from attending the meeting?
My fav: “A team of average players that pulls together will outperform a team of superstars that pulls for themselves.” Before my kids, I was a 49er Crazy-fan and they were the team of the decade, but they never received the top draft picks…a team of average professional athletics (individually, they were not the superstars they became). I like to think the 49ers of the late 80s and early 90s prove your point; they were a team first, that created superstars by default, through support and teamwork and leadership.