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[Re]Think Diversity Webinar: How Meetings Can Drive DE&I Progress

By Dave Anderson - April 15, 2021

There are more than 100 million meetings a day globally and each one presents the opportunity to improve employee equity and inclusion. However, research from decorated organizational psychologist and author of “The Surprising Science of Meetings” Dr. Steven Rogelberg shows that meetings are only effective, engaging, and inclusive 50% of the time. Poorly-run meetings are detrimental for multiple reasons, including making attendees feel marginalized.

Making meetings better is a direct path toward increased employee inclusion. In part one of our [Re]Think Diversity Webinar Series, Steven shares how the simple act of thoughtfully planning, running, and ending meetings can drive DE&I progress. 

Inclusive Leaders Run Inclusive Meetings

Leaders who run effective meetings act as stewards of everyone's time. It’s common for meeting leaders to be respectful of how they conduct meetings with customers and their bosses. However, the same level of consideration doesn’t always carry over to meetings with direct reports and peers. 

Adopting a stewardship mindset results in leaders becoming intentional in how they conduct meetings. The benefit? Inclusion becomes a forethought rather than an afterthought. 

Meeting Design Predicts Meeting Success

Meeting success and inclusion starts with meeting planning. On the live session, Steven shared four tips for leaders to consider when preparing for a meeting:

1. Inclusive meetings do not mean bigger meetings.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but large meetings actually undermine inclusion. They result in what’s known as “social loafing,” meaning attendees feel anonymous and don’t engage as deeply.

Resist the urge to over-invite people to meetings. Meetings can always be recorded and shared with busy employees who don’t need to attend in person. But beware: it's not uncommon for employees to feel excluded if they’re not invited to a specific meeting. This can be avoided by proactively explaining why they’ve been left off the invite list, sharing a summary of the meeting afterward, and giving them the option to attend future related meetings if they choose.  

2. Compelling agendas set the stage for inclusion.

During the meeting planning phase, ask attendees for advance input and then use their thoughts to build the agenda. Consider making the agenda a list of questions to be answered, as opposed to topics to be covered. Questions motivate the meeting leader to consider what they hope to achieve and who really needs to be invited. They also help the leader know when to end the meeting and if the meeting was successful (have all the questions been answered?). 

Striving to answer questions also creates an engaging challenge for attendees and makes the meeting collaborative. If the meeting leader can’t think of any questions, it likely means there is no need for a meeting. 

3. Set meeting times properly.

There’s no need to default to an hour-long meeting. Any meeting duration is perfectly acceptable if it’s enough time to answer the agenda questions. 

There is a principle known as “Parkinson’s Law,” which states that people expand meetings, and other work engagements, to fill the allotted time. Instead, set tight meetings that promote positive pressure to efficiently cover everything in the agenda. Research shows that groups experiencing some level of pressure perform optimally with increased focus and urgency. 

4. Utilize video for virtual meetings.

Presence promotes inclusion. Video makes attendees feel present and leads to optimal engagement. Research shows that it can also contribute to meeting fatigue, but there are other ways to address this (e.g., decrease meeting size and duration and make meetings more effective, in general).

Also, encourage attendees to turn off their self-view during meetings. People tend to focus on their personal image during meetings which is distracting as well as mentally taxing.  

How to Promote Inclusion During Meetings

Once a smart meeting plan is in place, it’s time to run the meeting with inclusion in mind. Steven provides four tips for conducting inclusive meetings:

1. Start the meeting on a positive note.

Research shows that the meeting leader’s mood influences how attendees feel. Leaders should start meetings with energy, appreciation, and gratitude. Doing so promotes a positive mood state which leads to more participation and active listening.  

This doesn’t mean the meeting leader needs to be artificially positive. Even in difficult circumstances, it’s possible to display energy, appreciation, and gratitude on some level. 

2. Establish meeting norms that make inclusion a priority. 

Meetings will never be fully inclusive until there’s an open conversation about inclusion. Ask team members what makes a meeting inclusive for them. Then come up with mutual expectations for both leaders and attendees to follow during future meetings.

Document and share meeting expectations with the wider team and ensure everyone follows the agreed-upon points in every meeting. 

3. Encourage active facilitation.

Meeting leaders must embrace the role of facilitator. Draw in attendees by asking for their thoughts and input, but make it specific: identify individual team members by name and ask a question that will draw them out and ensure all voices are heard. Be dialed into the meeting dynamics and resolve conflicts, create a safe environment, and keep the meeting focused on the agenda questions. If an attendee goes off-topic or speaks too long, kindly interrupt them so others can participate. 

4. Don’t underestimate the power of silence.

Research shows that silence, used strategically, helps gather more ideas, perspectives, and insights. Group brainstorming in silence (typing into a document, for example) yields nearly twice as many ideas as brainstorming verbally, and those ideas tend to be more creative. 

Silent brainstorming gives every attendee a voice and doesn’t require anyone to wait their turn (even the introverts in your group!). Ask attendees to contribute to a Google Doc with questions or prompts, or use one of the many collaboration apps that are now available. Then debrief by identifying themes, conclusions, and next steps. 

Successfully Conclude Meetings

After an inclusive and engaging meeting, it’s time to successfully come to an end. Steven concludes the webinar with two simple tips for ending meetings:

1. Prepare to act on meeting takeaways.

Inclusion means little if what was collectively decided on doesn’t get acted upon. Conclude meetings by defining takeaways and identifying the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) for each one. Don’t let anyone leave the meeting wondering what was accomplished and what the next steps will be.

2. Learn how to improve meetings going forward. 

The best way to improve meetings is to ask attendees for their feedback afterward. Send a quick survey asking what’s going well, what isn’t going well, and ideas for how to make meetings more inclusive. Always be willing to learn, reflect, and try new things. 

Better Meetings Can Support Your Inclusion Goals

Improving meetings is one of the most impactful ways to improve employee inclusion. Striving to run better meetings is something leaders can do every day, with little effort, and have a positive impact across the organization. 

To learn more, and hear questions and feedback from other attendees, watch the full 30-minute session on-demand.

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