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Leadership development

A manager’s guide to inclusive team meetings

June 26, 2020

People want to be treated fairly and feel included at work, like they belong as much as anyone else. 

It’s down to managers to ensure it happens. In fact, the words and actions of team leads has a 70% difference on whether individuals feel included, according to research by Deloitte.

This is often most evident in team meetings. We’ve all been in team meetings where a few people are dominating whilst the rest of the team remains quiet.

Different backgrounds and values in the room mean some people may feel uncomfortable speaking out against groupthink or questioning the status quo. Failing to address the diversity in the room means losing out on valuable insights and leaving someone out will only hurt them and make them less likely to speak up next time.

What can managers do in meetings to make everyone feel included?

Be aware of who is most likely to feel excluded

Everyone has their own values, vulnerabilities and priorities and so may feel marginalised in different contexts. It’s particularly important to be aware of;

  • Surface level bias (race, gender, age)
  • Diverse values and personalities 
  • More introverted team members
  • Diverse knowledge (someone’s role or knowledge could make it harder for them to participate)
  • Imposter-syndrome, where people don't want to speak up for fear of being "exposed as a fraud"

Consider how your words may impact each individual

The individual differences highlighted above can cause a gap between what you meant to say and what others understand. Prepare for any given meeting for this by asking yourself the following questions in advance:

  • What are my main points?
  • How might people’s current circumstances affect their response?
  • How might people’s past experiences affect their response?
  • How might people’s personalities affect their response?
  • How will I, in turn, respond?

Show self-awareness and vulnerability 

The most inclusive leaders show awareness of their personal blind spots and their shortcomings. Yet, a third of leaders believe they are more inclusive than how they’re perceived by their colleagues, according to Deloitte.

  • Reflect on how your own experiences have shaped your world view. Reflect on your privilege and you biases, on an ongoing basis.
  • Encourage your ideas to be challenged and admit when you don’t have all the answers. This creates a safe, inclusive team environment.
  • Publicly own the mistakes of the past. Lay those out, praise when others find flaws and find improvements. 

Tips to make sure everyone feels included in discussions

When people don't feel comfortable speaking up, they're less likely to support decisions and to commit to the team's action plan. Over time, their engagement can plummet.

These tips won’t be applicable to every team discussion but they’ll definitely prove handy — think of it as your tool belt of inclusivity hacks. Think about the aim of the meeting and consider which of these hacks you could lean on to create a more inclusive environment.

  • Assign a moderator to watch for interruptions and to ensure everyone has a chance to contribute by inviting them into the conversation e.g. “Amar, did you have additional thoughts you wanted to share on this point?”
  • To avoid people interrupting each other use a prop that gives permission to speak. (i.e. only the person holding the prop at any given time should be talking).
  • Give everyone the same amount of time to speak by setting a timer.
  • Give the team a few minutes to write down their ideas on post-it notes and share; making it less likely for people to be swayed by more dominant members.
  • If the team is reluctant to give their perspectives, assign half of the team to champion the idea and the other half to challenge it. This can take as little as five minutes and by role-playing the discussion, you’ll be able to get a discussion going more easily.
  • Ask people to prepare their thoughts before the meeting and invite additional thoughts after the meeting. This will allow people to work through the problem at their own pace and often improves the quality of contributions.

Inclusive decision-making

Silence does not imply consensus. If the team is reluctant to give their perspectives, what may seem as the most popular decision at first glance may not actually be.

  • To gauge the team’s opinions on a subject, ask them to line up along a wall, from completely agree to completely disagree, or from in favour to against. This gives you a quick visual representation of the team’s standpoint and gives everyone a chance to express their views.
  • To be fully democratic, take a vote by ballot, reducing the temptation for introverts and collaborators to go with whatever “seems” like the most popular opinion.
  • Try a disruptive role play. Get team members to play different roles in the process – the sceptic, the factual analyst, the pessimist, etc. This is classic ‘Team Roles' thinking. Not only does it lead to inclusion, but it also leads to better decisions by challenging your thought process.

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