7 Ways to Make Your Meetings More Inclusive

According to a recent Forbes report, employees spend between 35%-50% of their workday in meetings. That may sound awful, but it’s also an opportunity to use all that meeting time to foster a culture of belonging. Companies where employees feel a strong sense of belonging are 35 percent more likely to outperform their competition and achieve increased innovation, greater success with recruiting and retaining talent and greater financial returns.

Are your meetings as inclusive as they could be? Reflect on the last meeting you were in. Was it high energy with an active exchange of diverse ideas? Or did people hesitate to speak up and when they did, they simply reinforced whatever the most senior person in the room said? If your meetings can use an infusion of inclusion, here are seven ideas to help.

  • Focus on the “what”, not the “how”. At start of meetings, reinforce how the meeting aligns with a shared vision, mission and purpose to unify everyone around “good commonalities” while being open to diverse perspectives and approaches to achieve shared goals. 
  • Invite input. Practice asking, “what do you think?” more often during meetings to encourage ideas. And remember to be open to what you hear by seeking to understand, not to agree. Assume you can always learn even when you don’t always agree.
  • Listen and repeat. Challenge yourself to be the last person to speak up in meetings to minimize the tendency for others to agree with the boss. Challenge yourself to repeat what you heard after someone speaks to reinforce you were listening and accurately understanding. 
  • Ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute. Do not assume someone’s silence means they agree with the discussion or they have nothing to contribute. Instead, intentionally invite those who have not spoken to share their thoughts. Routinely ask if anyone has anything else to add before ending a meeting. After a meeting, ask for feedback from a participant who wasn’t as vocal at the meeting and take one minute to seriously consider their opinion.
  • Rotate ownership. If you lead a standing meeting, ask a different person to kick off each one to bring in a variety of different perspectives. Invite the rotating host to being the meeting with a mission moment by sharing what excites them about the shared vision, mission and purpose of the work.
  • Integrate team building into every meeting. Team building should not be a one and done experience, but should be maintained on an ongoing basis. Find ways to incorporate relationship building into the day-to-day work experiences. Carve out a few minutes at the end of meetings to have colleagues share about interests, hobbies, traditions or bucket-list items.
  • Be intentional about selecting your thought partners. Do you only collaborate with people that look like you or come from a similar background? Are your thought partners usually the same people? Regardless of their role in your start-up, every by asking thoughtful questions about your team’s strengths and selecting experts in those spaces to participate in meetings and brainstorming sessions (even if they are not leaders). 

Whether your meetings are virtual, in-person or hybrid, we are in them a lot! Small steps implemented consistently can make your meetings more impactful and begin to transform your overall culture – one meeting at a time.

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Beth Ridley is a former corporate executive turned organizational transformation consultant, speaker and author. Beth combines 25 years of global leadership and management consulting experience with expertise in diversity and inclusion and positive psychology to partner with leaders to transform workplace cultures to better achieve their vision and goals. Beth’s work is featured in national publications and she frequently delivers keynotes and workshops at events around the world. Beth lives with her husband and three children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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