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PRODUCTIVITY

Meetings: How to Get the Most From Everyone in the Room

At meetings, organizations pay a lot of lip service to terms like empathy and diversity. Here's how to make sure you actually grasp where everyone is coming from.
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You know how it is, most of the time, at meetings: You sit there, as a leader, and wonder about two things: 

1. Are my colleagues refusing to tell me what they really think, because they don't want to offend others?

2. Are my colleagues refusing to speak, period, because they don't want to waste more time sitting here?

Leaving aside the ever-relevant topic of whether your meetings are really necessary, this much is clear: If you're having meetings, you need to make sure everyone at the table is speaking up. More than this, you need to make sure their pain points are understood by everyone in the room. 

In their new book, Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change, authors Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon provide several useful tools for making sure all voices are heard--and empathized with--at strategy meetings. You can apply many of their tips to general meetings as well. 

Refreshingly, Ertel and Solomon remind readers that diversity comes in many forms--all of which are important in business settings. Specifically, they cite three types of diversity: organizational (based on an employee's role, tenure, or location); social (based on ethnicity, gender, or age), and psychological (based on personality, learning style, or motivations). 

If you're leading a meeting, you need to assess all of these points of view--especially when it comes to long-term strategy discussions. Here's the authors' checklist of six steps that can help you make sure you're truly considering multiple perspectives: 

1. Give borderline attendees an interview option. For employees "on the fence" about attending the meeting--either because you'd rather not invite them or they'd rather not attend--make sure to give them the option of providing their perspective through a pre-meeting interview. This way, their voice will be heard. And you'll avoid their restless presence at the table. For what it's worth, this tactic can also work well for conference calls. Elliot S. Weissbluth, founder and CEO of HighTower, a 300-employee financial services company based in Chicago, empowers his employees to opt out of any conference call they'd rather not participate in. 

2. Create a "cheat sheet" of key terms. In any setting, confusion over terminology can undermine communcation between diverse entities. Maybe the sales team uses acronyms that no one else understands; maybe everyone at the table is using vague high-concept terms like "vision," "strategy," and "goals" without a common understanding of what those terms really mean. As the leader of the meeting, you need to provide a glossary of all key terms--so everyone at the table can work with the same definitions. 

3. Play the "gives and gets" game. The authors talk about how Scottish Enterprise, an economic development agency, initiates strategic meetings by asking participants to list everything they've contributed to the organization ("gives") and everything they've received ("gets"). Sure enough, most participants believe they are giving far more than they are receiving. As the authors point out, this is a logical impossibility. The game--when all results are shared--provides a useful reminder to all departments that they are just pieces of a larger puzzle. And that they need to be a little less self-absorbed. 

4. Get people to switch hats. You can do this by conducting a simple role-playing game. Ask the CIO to play the VP Sales role; ask the CFO to play the CMO; and so on. Do it while you're seriously debating an actual decision that the organization needs to make. Though it seems like a simple game, it will inevitably help your team grasp a problem from multiple perspectives.  

5. Find the hidden needs. Approach participants in advance of a meeting and ask them how the meeting might be useful to them. "This can keep them focused on positive insights," write the authors. As the leader, this activity will also open your eyes to the innermost needs of all meeting participants. Knowing this in advance of the meeting will help you steer and moderate the discussion.

6. MAP the motivations. That acronym stands for meaning, affect, and power. It comes from psychologist David Kantor's book, Reading the Room. Kantor believes that while every individual has a unique combination of motives, most people tend to lead with one of three core values: Meaning or purpose (that's the "M"), affect or relationships ("A"), or power ("P"). Ertel and Solomon encourage you to perform a quick MAP assessment of everyone in the room. You'll gain insight about their pain points, and get a better sense of how to provide a highly personalized level of motivation.




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