Wednesday / May 29

3 Ways Leaders Can Make Meetings More Engaging


When you take a look at your calendar, I bet you’re hard pressed to not find at least one meeting scheduled within the next week. More likely, you’re struggling to find a break between events in your back-to-back unrelenting schedule. I’d also bet, there is at least one meeting for which your “prep” work includes mapping out the to-do list you plan to accomplish during said meeting, like: responding to parent emails, twitter updates, or maybe even grading a few papers…

Let’s face it, so many of us are overscheduled and must make priority calls over how to best use our time (which can be especially true at this time of year). So, leaders, do your meetings make the cut? In other words, who shows up to your meetings – passive attendees or engaged participants? As we both know, meetings aren’t going away, so it’s worth considering how we best utilize our time, and perhaps more importantly how to fully tap into the full intelligence of our people.

Here are three subtle adjustments that will allow you to shift the way people prepare and participate in your meetings, making each more productive.

Invite Multiple Perspectives: The whole purpose of bringing people together for a meeting is to benefit from the many perspectives sitting in the room. Sometimes, though, we default to a structure that either implicitly or explicitly limits people’s contributions. This may come in the form of the meeting convener monopolizing all the talk-time (Think: “Always-OnAccidental Diminisher) or the convener actively seeking input from a select few.

So, the next time a point has been made – what if instead of offering your reaction or calling on specific participants, you simply ask: “What do others think?” Building this question into your meeting protocol is a sure-fire way to invite multiple perspectives. And keep in mind – if you’ve been holding this meeting for many weeks or months, it might take your team some time to adjust and accept your invitation. But rest assured, when people know their ideas and creativity are not only expected, but also invited, they’ll prepare and participate differently.

Shift the “Status Update”: While the round-table update format can be informative, it’s generally not productive for the updater, nor for other participants. However, with a few modifications this round-table update can prove to be more than informative and actually help people get their work done. We kicked off a recent board meeting with a review of each board member’s portfolio of projects – fully prepared for the boredom of going ‘round the horn, I settled in to my chair, waiting for my turn.

But things went differently than I’d experienced in previous meetings with this kind of set-up. After my colleague finished her update, the convener simply asked: “What do others think?” Some people chimed in; others stayed silent. But, it was with his second question that things got interesting. He followed our reactions with a well-placed question directed to the portfolio owner, “What more would you need from this conversation to move forward?” It was with this question that he not only signaled our full support to help her move toward execution, but also pushed the burden of thinking back to the project owner (where it belongs).

Entertain Ideas, While Moving Toward Resolution: So often in meetings, especially staff meetings or curriculum meetings, we find ourselves dancing around the same topic meeting after meeting. Or perhaps more likely, we dive into an agenda item, engage in a really rich discussion with passionate views shared, and emerge with no clear next step (which can often be the reason we add the item to the next meeting agenda). Without a doubt, leaders need to create a space for new ideas to percolate. At the same time, leaders need to find a way to move toward resolution. One strategy for moving toward resolution following one of these open discussions is to frame up the conversation in this way:

“What I take away from this conversation is…” [inserting your key findings, without making  the decision on next steps]. Then, spark discussion by asking: “What do others think about that..?” Listen… Then, move toward action with a question like: “Who’s got an appetite to move forward with it?” You’ll either see hands raise or hear nothing but crickets in the background. Either way, you’ll be in the position to move the item onto someone’s plate or off the table completely.

These are just three of many possible strategies you can employ to increase engagement and change the way your people think about meetings. Leave a comment to share a strategy that you’ve found effective or let us know how it went when you gave one of these a try.

Written by

Elise Foster, co-author of The Multiplier Effect and Multipliers Master Practitioner, is a leadership coach who enables leaders to unlock the full potential of their people. She brings her systems engineering mindset to bear as she invites leaders to bring out the best in everyone around them. She works with leaders to help become even better Multipliers, by closing the gap between their aspirations and reality.

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