Employees feeling like their opinions are heard is a crucial engagement indicator. We have all experienced an employee who felt detached or insignificant, and we know the impact that employee had on the rest of the team and customers.
How you run your team meetings embodies your team culture, and it’s one of the biggest areas you as a manager can influence to make sure your employees feel like their opinions are heard.
Meetings take up a lot of our time, running good meetings is difficult, running inclusive meetings where everyone feels their point has been heard is really hard. In the ideal meeting, everyone participates, diverse points of view are contributed and the team thinks together to reach new insights. In reality, this often doesn’t happen because not everyone is able to effectively contribute.
In this article, we discuss two key dynamics that may explain why people feel that they cannot contribute effectively along with a series of tricks to make sure that everyone in your team has the opportunity to share their opinion.
Psychological safety, do people feel safe to share their opinion or challenge the status quo?
Have you ever been in a meeting where no one voiced their opinions, there was not much discussion, and people simply went along with what you as their manager said? We know that a solid team should be able to bounce ideas off each other, strengthen action plans, help solve issues, and provide support to each other.
Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson who coined the term. In “Project Aristotle”, Google developed a list of the 5 key dynamics that make great teams successful: with psychological safety being determined as the most important factor.
Psychological safety should be woven through the fabric of a workplace, as a manager, you can use these specific tips to help increase psychological safety in your team and specifically in your meetings:
Frame the work as a learning problem rather than an execution problem - by clearly stating that there is a big element of unknown, the problem that you are solving is unchartered territory and you need everyone's ideas and opinions to help solve the problem. This creates a feeling of inclusivity.
Admit your own humanity - Many brains are better than one, and as a manager, you are also human. By saying “I may miss something, I need to hear from all of you about X” - creates more safety to speak up.
Model curiosity - Ask a lot of questions which creates a necessity for voice. Make sure to ask introverted team members for their opinion so they have the chance to be heard.
Extrovert thinkers vs introvert thinkers
Extroverted thinkers thrive off getting new information in a meeting and make sense of it by talking it through. Conversely, introverted thinkers make their best contributions when they’ve had time to process relevant information and have the space to think and share thoughtful conclusions.
Often extroverts perceive introvert’s silence in this situation as disagreement, not having the subject matter expertise, or that they simply don’t care.
Here are some tips on how to make sure both introverts and extroverts have the opportunity to contribute their ideas and opinions:
Before the meeting: Write the meeting agenda and purpose and share it with everyone 24 hours in advance. Write the agenda items as questions rather than topics and encourage participants to come prepared. This gives introverts the space to process the information away from the pressure of a loud meeting.
During: Proactively give introverted thinkers the floor with questions like, “Sophie, from the discussion so far, what really stands out for you?” or “Tom, what do you think we should be considering that we haven’t yet covered?”
After: Share a meeting summary and ask for ideas that may have come up after the meeting by ending your summary email with, “Does anyone have a new insight about this situation since we met? If so, I’d love to hear it.”
Set your team up for success with these meeting tricks
Perhaps you already know about psychological safety and the dynamics at play between extroverts and introverts. Here are some more general tips and tricks you can use in your next team meeting to encourage diversity of thought/perspective and participation from all team members.
1. Write and share
Give everyone time to process the question, jot down thoughts on paper, and share what they've come up with. This gives less vocal participants time to gather their thoughts, process information, and ensures they'll be heard.
2. Power of the pen
If one person is dominating, ask them to be the scribe. This intrinsically tasks them with listening and creates a space for others.
3. Interrupt interruptions!
Lead by example and call out interrupters and encourage others to do the same. Come equipped with phrases like, "Just a moment, Bob – I want to make sure I understand Kinga’s point before we move further."
When someone makes a good point, acknowledge their contribution, and give public praise to their ideas. Don't let hijackers get away with stealing other’s ideas and highlight when value has been added.
5. Always leave time for a wrap-up
Review key points and decisions to make sure everyone is on the same page, then reiterate the next steps and who’s responsible for what.
Lastly, thank everyone for contributing and highlight the value this meeting created – e.g., "Great job everyone, the decisions we just made have unblocked us and set us up to move a lot faster throughout the rest of the project."
Time to implement these tips and tricks for you and your team! Good luck 💪