1.Everybody speaks. Don’t let anyone sit idle for the entire meeting. Encourage contributions by adopting an open tone, being supportive, and directly soliciting input from individuals. Show that everyone can contribute – and that everyone is expected to contribute.
2.Preparation is key. Somebody needs to prepare the main content of the meeting to ensure its solid basis. Involving multiple people in preparation greatly improves participation. When I taught graduate courses at a local university, I used a variation of this technique to foster class participation. I’d have each student write down their answer to a question before opening up the classroom to discussion. With just this two minutes of preparation in advance, participation skyrocketed.
3.Minimize updates. Status updates are a waste of everyone’s time in a live, face-to-face meeting. They reward the unprepared and emphasize one-to-many communication over more meaningful and dynamic dialogue. Aim to respect everyone’s time, and reward those who prepared by discussing exceptions, outliers, or anomalies in the meeting. Focus this precious time on analysis, debate, and decision-making in order to set a more productive tone.
4.Remain vulnerable. The leader of the meeting doesn’t know everything, can’t make great decisions on his or her own, and needs the perspectives and input of others to inform future direction. Everybody knows this, including you, so let go of old management stereotypes and embrace the value of team input. Asking “What do you think?” or saying “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” or “How should we approach this?” shows real leadership. The best thing a leader can do for a team is to create more leaders.
5.Be honest. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think. If a leader is willing to go out on a limb, that makes it safe for others to do the same. Of course, in order for this to work, it needs to be okay for others to disagree with you (and each other). The closer the team moves toward an honest and unvarnished dialogue on the issues, the more productive it will be, and the better the outcome will turn out. The really meaty stuff should not leave the room. An expectation of privacy and a “safe haven” in a meeting is necessary for building the trust needed for open exchanges. This will take time, but it’s worth it.
6.Move things forward. Make decisions, celebrate wins, and develop plans. The number-one thing that motivates each of us in a work environment is a sense of progress. Leverage this heavily in your meetings.