Inclusive Meetings

In my last post, I talked about focusing your inclusion efforts on a specific aspect of your culture or work experience. One of my favorite early targets for intervention is meetings. Meetings are an aspect of work that often touch all or nearly all employees. They are also commonly not very intentional, not very inclusive, and not terribly valuable. All of which makes them a righteous opportunity for us.

Before galloping off to make anything more inclusive, it is critical that you have a foundational definition, model, or framework for understanding what inclusion means to your organization, for understanding what the experience of being included actually consists of. Without that, you are unlikely to ever get any real traction. However well intended, chasing vague and ambiguous targets is an exercise in inefficiency and frustration. If inclusion is the product that you hope to produce, know its dimensions, specifications, and features.

This foundational framework or definition should be specific to your organization, but, for the sake of this post, let’s work with a general framework. A simple and actionable way of thinking about inclusion is as a balance of uniqueness and belonging. A place or space is inclusive when I can be true to myself and can also still be an insider. (diagram and link to paper)

If uniqueness and belongingness are the two primary dynamics that comprise an inclusive experience, then we can look at an aspect of the work experience (such as meetings) and consider opportunities to design for greater uniqueness and/or belongingness.

Teams that work together with regular meetings frequently lean heavily toward the belongingness side of things and need to bring things back into balance with more of a focus on uniqueness. These teams often avoid serious disagreement, suffer from groupthink, and have meetings that are for the most part easy but not terribly valuable. A few practices to help address this:

Devil’s Advocate: Assign one member (at random) the role of devil’s advocate at each meeting. Teams need to exercise their disagreement muscles, and the individual members need to be reminded that it is both safe and valuable to tell the truth to each other. Also, find ways to acknowledge and reward people for disagreeing well — it is an incredibly valuable and incredibly rare skill.

Serial Sharing: It is also not uncommon for these standing meetings to be dominated by 2-3 participants, and, in order to better harvest the full diversity of the team, I suggest a practice called serial sharing. Rather than opening the conversation up to whoever wishes to talk, I ask every individual member to go on the record as to how they feel about what is being discussed, and they each get exactly the same amount of time.

Rotating Roles: Another way to provide members with an opportunity to make a unique contribution is to mix up the roles. In addition to the rotating devil’s advocate role, give folks a chance to help draft the agenda, plan, or facilitate the meeting.

Cross-departmental teams that do not meet regularly oftentimes contain silos that lean in opposing direction, making it hard to find common ground. A few practices to consider:

Clear Purpose: A powerful way to promote a sense of belonging is to make sure that everyone is on the same page and understands exactly what is going on. Make sure that folks know in advance what the meeting is for and how it is going to be accomplished.

Common Language: Different departments and different professions generally bring their own linguistic shorthand to a conversation. Refrain from using acronyms and other technical lingo that can make it harder to have a shared understanding of what is being discussed.

Get to Know Each Other: Personal relationships are one of the best ways to reduce the impact of departmental differences and bias. Invest time before and/or during the meeting to actually get to know each other.

If you have a meeting that could be more inclusive, experiment with one or more of these practices. They will change the energy of your meetings and likely make them more valuable.

And remember, these practices are anchored in a particular model of inclusion. You need to define your model of inclusion as well.

Let me know how your meetings go!

Be good to each other.






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