Inclusive Meetings

Thriven Partners

cultivating breakthrough thinking and action

Leading inclusive, engaging, and generative meetings

Workplace culture unlocks potential

     Workplace culture is critical to the success of an organization and its employees. Harnessing the power of a consciously cultivated workplace culture can yield amazing benefits that spread throughout the entire company. Creating an environment where employees feel included and engaged fosters creativity and productivity—two qualities that top-performing companies tirelessly work to establish and protect. In companies where employees feel their contribution is valued and that they are vital to the organization’s success, you reap the benefits of retaining employees for the long haul. An employee that feels included and valued is much more likely to go the extra mile and to feel connected to the company in a meaningful way. 

     Effective leadership in the workplace can feel like a daunting task, as there are many different angles that one can approach this effort. Yet, the effectiveness of your leadership will depend on selecting the approaches that will have the most impact. Considering this, one of the areas that involves significant time, resources, and impact are meetings. Meetings are a microcosm of the company’s culture, a mirror of what the culture values, how it operates, and the way it does business. Meetings provide an excellent window into how employees engage with each other and with the workplace, as well as how ideas are shared, received, and what comes of them.

Observe and assess the current state of meetings

     If you’re curious about the vitality of your workplace culture and how communication flows within it, hold a meeting and observe how it functions. Is everyone able to contribute easily or do only one or two people dominate the meeting? Are ideas and feedback exchanged freely and often, or do people stay quiet and give passive or neutral feedback when asked? Do employees seem confident in sharing constructive feedback or disagreement with ideas or do they seem to offer only the answers they believe are “correct” when asked? The first step to creating an engaging and inclusive workplace is to create engaging and inclusive meetings. To start, take the time to run a diagnostic on your current meetings and build from that foundation.
     After assessing the state of your company’s current meeting format, you can begin to introduce changes and small tweaks to gradually shift your meetings towards inclusion, engagement, and productivity. One of the most impactful changes company leadership can make within meetings is to focus on inclusion. Inclusive meetings consider diversity of thought, experience, and solutions moving the group to a more well-rounded and vivid picture of the issue at hand and ways to attend to it.

     Effective leadership in the workplace can feel like a daunting task, as there are many different angles that one can approach this effort. Yet, the effectiveness of your leadership will depend on selecting the approaches that will have the most impact. Considering this, one of the areas that involves significant time, resources, and impact are meetings. Meetings are a microcosm of the company’s culture, a mirror of what the culture values, how it operates, and the way it does business. Meetings provide an excellent window into how employees engage with each other and with the workplace, as well as how ideas are shared, received, and what comes of them.

Diversify the meeting structure

     One way to amplify inclusion in meetings is to structure the interactions so that there is space for the various stakeholders present to contribute, be heard, and engaged. Shift from the usual open forum around a large table, where the person who is quick to speak and most adamant about their position is afforded the space to dominate and use up precious airtime.

​     Break the meeting up into segments that involve visualizing, moving content around, building upon ideas/solutions, and involve a mix of small and large group processing. These kinds of interactions in meetings generate better ideas and solutions, enable cross pollination of ideas and generate the most comprehensive and integrated solutions possible in a 30-, 45-, 60-, or 90-minute + time frame.

     In structuring the meetings so that there is some variety in how you work together, you create the conditions for introverts and extroverts to engage in a more balanced and meaningful way. You shift power from those who typically hold or take it, to include those who don’t typically hold the power in meetings. You create the space for talent to shine and be tapped in those who may not be your usual contributors. You open up the possibility to get the best out of everyone present in dynamic ways that move people to share their expertise, strategize, and collaborate to move the business forward.

Balance verbal and written feedback

     Having a balance in verbal and written feedback ensures every member gets their word in, not just those who naturally thrive in verbal communication or who are more often heard than others. You can include a written component to the meeting, having participants respond to questions or cases in real-time by writing those answers down on notecards, sticky notes, or topic sheets located throughout the room. Their ideas get documented and it allows for people who process information differently to put their ideas, suggestions and concerns out there for consideration and/or inclusion. It highlights for everyone to see where there may be convergence and/or divergence of thinking that can be attended to in order to determine the way forward with the least risk for failure or waste, and the greatest benefits.

Determine meeting norms and hold each other accountable to them

     Set agreed upon ground rules or norms for how you all will work together in meetings and hold each other accountable to them. Determine what kind of dissent is constructive and productive, how you will handle dissent, and when it is appropriate. Hold one another to task in sharing the airspace and minimizing or avoiding all together interrupting one another. Determine how you will handle tangents and going off task, so that when the meeting is redirected to its intended purpose nobody is taken aback by the approach. Assign someone to serve as the norm manager and rotate this role each meeting. The norm manager for the meeting can be charged with keeping the group accountable to the agreements and must be given the authority to hold that role and space in the room.  Meeting norms that are agreed upon, as opposed to assumed, minimize miscommunication and conflict, while enabling more relevant contributions, healthy exchanges and meaningful engagement from different people.

How Thriven Partners helps

​     Workplace leaders long for meetings that draw upon their talented employees to generate actionable, innovative ideas and solutions that result in the greatest benefits to the business. At Thriven Partners, we work with companies to design meetings and gatherings that optimize learning, knowledge sharing, and strategic action. We co-design meetings and gatherings that focus on achieving or exceeding the intended outcomes, more fully engage participants, forge meaningful connections, and advance the business.

Melissa Álvarez Mangual, Ed.D

Dr. Álvarez Mangual is the founder and executive coach of Thriven Partners, LLC. She has over 20 years of workforce and talent development experience that has intentionally centered inclusion, equity, and justice.

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