Most of us know when we leave a meeting feeling inspired, but we don’t always know why. A dynamic conversation occurs where opinions and diverse vantage points are taken into account, or a decision we’ve been analyzing for months finally gets made.
Too many of us lack the skill, experience or sheer courage to consistently lead conversations that give rise to these outcomes. The positional hierarchy and hard-driving approach to meetings that dominate many workplaces doesn’t teach us how to make meetings motivating for our team.
It took me years to realize that one of the most important aspects of being a leader is to support the consistent use of practices that celebrate and give a voice to the people doing the work. This type of support provides an opportunity for personal reflection and creates a sense of community within the organization. Yes friends, this process can be learned.
Take time for questions
One of the practices we have come to inherently value at our food bank is a check-in at the top of every meeting. Before business begins, our very first objective is to ask a simple question and circle the table, listening intently to the words of our colleagues, guests and leaders about the details of their lives.
These check-in questions may have nothing to do with business, and sometimes take up more time than planned on the agenda once people start sharing. But the tone of equality and humanity that they establish at the onset of the meeting has a truly meaningful impact on the quality and productivity of the engagement. It levels our playing field.
Know your colleagues
When a staff member, fresh from a collaborative leadership training retreat first proposed this practice, I was skeptical at best. Years of hard-driving agendas, busy schedules and pressure to produce had done little to encourage practices that required us to regularly slow down and listen. But now, when I go to a meeting and the leader opens with, “I know you’re all very busy, so let’s jump into the agenda,” I cringe. Especially when there is a room full of people I don’t know, all fabulous and talented in unique ways. I feel cheated when work is the only thing on the agenda because I have become completely convinced, that through this practice, business excels when people know that who they are and the unique gifts they bring are valued more than what they produce. It builds relationships.
The next time you’re hosting a meeting and feel inclined to just jump in, hit the brakes. Go around the table and ask for more than everyone’s name, rank and serial number. Ask a meaningful, fun or introspective question that allows all voices to be heard and respected. Listen attentively, smile and then get down to business. You’ll be more productive and a whole lot happier in the end. I promise.