Lead Meetings Uncommonly Awesome!

Blog by Tracy Stock, CSP

Have you ever been in a meeting where the conversation just drags endlessly on, and nothing gets decided on…ever? People talk over one another and the only outcome is to schedule a follow-up meeting?

If you’ve nodded yet, you’re not alone. Did you know that 49 percent of meetings are considered to be a waste of time? So half of the countless hours we listen, debate and respectfully challenge, are better left unattended? Wow! That statistic is alarming. If only there was a more productive solution. Well, I’m going to share an excellent five-tiered solution, but I first want to ask you a question that will lead to one of the five components that I’ll dive deeper into shortly.

When you were a kid, and attended elementary school, did you sit in a desk and work fairly autonomously, facing the front of the room, likely with a larger-than-life-sized chalkboard staring back at you? I know I did! Interestingly, classrooms today are far different. Small groups of students are seated together and are expected to do countless activities as a team. And in our workplaces, many of us are now working in open-plan offices where we are seen and overheard by our colleagues, without a lick of privacy and solitude. This means our schools and workplaces cater to the likes of extroverts far more than introverts—who crave quiet, low-key environments to think about and process issues, before formulating their view and recommending solutions.

No quiet = no input.

No quiet = perceived lack of interest or disengagement.

No quiet = no solutions from 30 to 50 percent of the workforce.

But how do we fix this huge engagement and results problem? We need to fundamentally change how meetings are facilitated.

The responsibility of a meeting’s effectiveness lies almost solely on the shoulders of the meeting facilitator. Their role is clearly not an easy one—yet, often is the difference between meeting success and failure. A facilitator needs to listen, extract information, make decisions and drive actions that are in alignment with the desired outcomes. And in order to manage meetings well and foster productivity—they need structure and order. For without these elements, meeting drudgery can go on forever and not accomplish a thing. The five key roles of a meeting facilitator include:

  1. Identify the objective of the meeting and prepare the agenda.
  2. Communicate the agenda, meeting expectations, and the decision-making process—all in advance.
  3. Determine facilitation strategy and coordinate meeting logistics.
  4. Acknowledge differences in contribution preferences and how they impact interaction.
  5. Address challenging behaviors in a professional and prompt manner.  

As promised earlier, I want to continue to explore role #4—to acknowledge differences in contribution preferences and how they impact interaction.

It’s likely a fair question to now ask if you know whether you are an extrovert, introvert, or maybe a combination of both (known as an ambivert)? If interested in knowing, you can take this short online quiz to find out @ https://susancain.net/quiet-quiz/.

Introversion and extroversion go to the heart of who a person is: how they work, how they live, and how they interact. And now that your style is clear, let’s look at what facilitators can do to lead meetings with enhanced involvement and collaboration between all contribution preferences—including introverts, ambiverts and extroverts:

  • Ask questions in advance. Clarify what ideas will be discussed in advance of the meeting so ideas can be considered, analyzed and thought through by everyone before being put on the spot.
  • Request that ideas are put in writing. Ask people to write down their thoughts and bring them to the meeting so they don’t feel that silence is the better choice. Collect the written ideas and capture them on a whiteboard to review together. This ensures some individuals aren’t jockeying for airtime.
  • Consider online versus live brainstorming sessions. Allowing quality time to think and share perspectives online without being seated next to your colleagues makes it easier to formulate your own thoughts and opinions rather than agreeing with what is heard in a live brainstorming exercise.
  • Put a problem on a piece of paper, pass it around, and each person adds his/her solution. This allows for everyone to contribute and share unique ideas without being potentially criticized.
  • Invite several introverts to share their thoughts first. This strategy reinforces that the views from introverts are valued too, especially when they’re heard in the first few minutes.
  • Ask both styles to appear on the agenda in prominent roles. Often times, extroverts are asked to share their findings in meetings and the opinions of introverts are more easily overlooked. For example, research indicates that in a typical six-person meeting, two people do more than 60 percent of the talking. In bigger groups, the problem is even more serious.
  • Allow people to work the way they want to. Encourage extroverts to socialize and share ideas when they feel compelled to and give introverts the freedom to take a walk to recharge or work from the coffee shop next door if they need a break from the team environment.
  • Encourage each style to be more open to differing styles. Inspire extroverts to listen, reflect, and become more open to the perspectives of their more silent peers. Incite introverts to speak up by helping them feel comfortable enough to contribute.

Clearly, it’s important to acknowledge and prepare for differences in how people like to contribute in meetings. And when it’s fairly balanced, meeting attendees can harness their strengths using their preference in terms of how they like to process questions and share their respective input. Because a meeting with too many extroverts can suffer from ego issues, while a meeting with too many introverts can be lacking a collaborative dynamic.

The secret to success is to do COMMON things—like facilitating meetings—uncommonly well…which is a skill worth celebrating.

***If you’re organization struggles with facilitating productive meetings, connect with me about my in-person or virtual program entitled, “Master Meetings! Schedule Less. Achieve More.” (I recently spoke in-person on this topic at the Annual SHRM Conference & Expo in New Orleans, LA.)