How to Lead More Inclusive Meetings for Greater Productivity

inclusive meeting

Only 35% of employees feel consistently comfortable contributing to meetings.

This comfort – or lack thereof – is attributable to various factors, including:

  • The pressure to perform in front of authoritative figures
  • A fear of public speaking

For many, meetings can be intimidating and nerve-racking, making it difficult to voice their thoughts and ideas. 

Research shows that employees want and believe in inclusive work culture.

Inclusion in the workplace is also one of the most important keys to retention. Studies have shown replacing a highly-trained employee can cost up to 200% of their annual salary, making the need for improved inclusion even more pressing.

What Makes a Meeting Inclusive?

An inclusive meeting is one in which all team members feel welcomed, respected, and empowered to contribute actively. An inclusive meeting ensures everyone can share their thoughts, regardless of their personality, role, or work setup.

Before assuming your organization’s meetings are already inclusive, ask yourself if any of the following scenarios have occurred during a team discussion:

  • One employee interrupts another who is making a suggestion.
  • Team members speak over each other, getting louder as the meeting progresses.
  • The meeting seems to be only between the leader and one vocal employee.
  • Remote workers can only hear the meeting and do not participate.

Unfortunately, it’s too easy for some meeting attendees to feel like their opinion isn’t valued or that they will be interrupted when speaking up. Leading inclusive meetings takes effort.

The benefits of running inclusive meetings in your organization can be plentiful. So let’s dive into several ways to ensure all team members can equally contribute to company growth and success. 

7 Tips for More Inclusive Meetings

To increase collaboration, enhance communication, and improve decision-making within your meetings and the organization, consider implementing the following tips for more inclusive meetings.

1. Set Ground Rules and Expectations

To ensure inclusion is more than just a buzzword at your next meeting, set and share some ground rules and expectations for team discussions. 

Some suggestions include the following:

  • All participants must listen actively to what others are saying at all times.
  • Offensive or divisive language is not permitted.
  • Meetings are a judgment-free zone where everyone can share their opinions without repercussions.
  • Open dialogue is highly encouraged; everyone will receive a turn to speak if they have something to contribute.
  • All different opinions, ideas, and perspectives are welcomed, respected, and valued.
  • Zero tolerance for interruptions and speaking over others.

Sometimes, simply knowing there is an active and authentic commitment to inclusivity can inspire hesitant employees to engage in meetings and contribute actively.

2. Keep Meetings on Track and Organized

Organized meetings have agendas, roles, timelines, and clear goals. A well-organized meeting will often be more efficient, effective, and productive. Organized meetings are also more inclusive, allowing ample room for contributions and discussion.

Here are some ways to keep your next meeting on track and more organized:

  • Have a start and end time.
  • Provide an agenda with target times for each key point.
  • Assign roles to different team members, including note taker, timekeeper, and facilitator. The more people in charge of keeping a meeting organized, the better.
  • Share meeting agendas beforehand so all participants can gather documents or materials and be ready to present.
  • Be ready to pause a discussion topic if you’re not making progress to move to the discussion of other topics.

Part of keeping a meeting organized is keeping your entire business organized. Working with different business organizer apps ensures you’re always ready with a list of timely topics, project details, or industry news to include in your next meeting agenda.

3. Build Agendas Collaboratively

While you don’t have to wait until the last minute to plan a meeting agenda, you don’t have to do it alone. Sometimes meetings can instantly become more inclusive when the entire team works together to build the structure of an upcoming discussion.

As the leader of the meeting, start with a clear purpose or goal. Next, build a basic agenda, then share it with your team for feedback and suggestions. You can tweak the meeting agenda with their input until it’s the perfect roadmap.

Once you have finalized the agenda, make sure every stakeholder and participant receives a copy so they can prepare their thoughts and any necessary materials ahead of time.

4. Offer Unique Contribution Channels

For introverts, speaking up in a meeting in front of their colleagues can be a nightmare. By offering unique contribution channels, you can ensure to amplify the quietest voices.

Encourage less-than-vocal team members to contribute during your next meeting by:

  • Rather than immediately diving into a meeting agenda, start with an icebreaker. This icebreaker could be a simple question, asking everyone to share their favorite pizza topping. It allows everyone to get a feel for speaking in front of their colleagues without the pressure.
  • Allow people to attend meetings virtually, even from their office next door. This flexibility enables them to use a chat feature to contribute rather than speaking in person.
  • Encourage additional discussion after the meeting is closed. Allow employees to contact you or the meeting coordinator with their ideas or contributions. You can do this by email or through other communication channels.

5. Boost Virtual Accessibility

Having remote workers on the team is common practice. However, whether out of the office for the day or stationed elsewhere full-time, they should have the same access to meetings as those in the office. After all, ensuring equal access is part of compassionate leadership.

  • Check-in with remote workers using video conferencing during meetings to ensure they can hear and see everything.
  • Provide remote workers with meeting materials ahead of time, similar to those in the office.
  • Take different time zones into consideration when scheduling meeting times.
  • Make sure every person has an opportunity to speak and contribute to the conversation. Remote workers may be shy or hesitant to speak up, so encourage their participation.

Also, every employee should have a face to go along with their name, even if they’re uncomfortable with or unable to use the video feature. Consider using a free profile picture tool to give everyone equal representation.

6. Ensure Clear Communication

Inclusive communication doesn’t just occur during the meeting itself, but before and after. Ensuring clear communication between all team members at all stages allows for equal opportunity.

Email list management is typically considered a marketing task, but it’s also important for internal email lists. Take the time to review your organization’s internal email lists to ensure that agendas, feedback forms, and meeting notes are getting to the right people.

When it comes to clear communication during the meeting, create a comfortable, quiet space that allows people to be heard without interruption. Ask questions and encourage everyone to participate. It also helps to limit distractions by turning off phones and taking regular breaks to refocus.

7. Ask For Feedback

One truth about inclusiveness is there’s always room for improvement. To improve means after working towards making a meeting more inclusive, it’s still helpful to ask attendees how the next meeting can be more open, collaborative, and communicative. 

Using a survey platform can offer insight, along with a form submission tool or email request. Ask attendees if they felt free to offer their opinions and suggestions or if they noticed a need for more oversight on the ground rules. Ask employees if they’re satisfied with how you’re facilitating meetings.

Once you’ve received feedback, take the time to discuss possible improvements that could be made for the next meeting and continue to evaluate the inclusiveness of each team discussion to ensure everyone feels heard and respected.

Celebrate Inclusion in Meetings

Inclusive meetings are key to a productive and successful organization. Having an atmosphere where every team member, despite their personality, role, or work setup, feels comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions allows for a more creative and innovative approach to problem-solving. 

By implementing strategies such as setting ground rules, boosting virtual accessibility, and creating diverse agendas, meetings can become more inclusive and help create a stronger, more successful organization.


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