Is a meeting’s effectiveness determined by punctuality or outcomes? We’re all looking for ways to make meetings more effective, and you’ve probably read article after article with tips on how to do this: keep meetings short, eliminate distractions by not allowing cell phones, make attendees stand for the duration of the meeting, etc. These are all great ideas that may help you keep the meeting on schedule, but what about the outcome? What happens after the meeting is over and your team gets back to work? It is only following a return to business as usual when you will know if you’ve made the biggest meeting mistake of all.

After more than three decades of experience serving across 10 different industries, I’ve sat through countless meetings. I’ve noticed that leaders don’t fail in keeping meetings short or setting the perfect agenda. Where they fail is by interpreting an affirmative head nod as tacit approval. You may look around the room as you share your vision and see every head nodding in what you think is agreement. However, a head nod can mean a variety of things such as, “If I have a dissenting opinion, nobody is going to listen to it anyway” or “I don’t agree with a word that’s being said, but I don’t want to speak up and create conflict.” 

How do leaders discern between agreement and silent dissent? That can be difficult; it’s best to prevent this situation in the first place. Here are a few recommendations: 

  • Prior to the meeting, leaders should announce the topic and ask all parties to come with both positive and negative opinions surrounding that topic.
  • Facilitate the meeting using a tool like The de Bono Group’s Six Thinking Hats to force multiple perspectives. The premise: each participant is assigned a different color “hat” or lens through which to discuss the topic at hand. For example, the person with the white hat bring facts and neutral objective information, the person with the yellow hat focuses on brightness and optimism, the wearer of the black hat plays devil’s advocate, and so on.
  • Foster an environment of constructive friction by creating an atmosphere where multiple perspectives are welcomed. To do this, participants can jot down a short thought about the topic. One person reads each note anonymously. This can help in particular with participants who are introverted, as it gives them time to think about their contribution to the meeting. 

All of the above will encourage members of your team to feel free to agree or disagree while still committing to the decision at hand because their voices are heard. As we all know, meetings can be valuable and productive-;you just have to take the right steps to make them that way.

Published on: Sep 24, 2015