Let my people speak!

Let my people speak!

How to engage team members in meetings


Business meetings can run the gamut from a group of dynamic, engaged participants to a sullen, disengaged assembly of humans. 

If your organization has more of the latter, what can you do to get your workforce checked back in?

Things can go south even if someone is clearly in charge, the agenda has been disseminated ahead of time, specific time parameters have been set, and other key meeting facilitation techniques have been utilized. 

There may be understandable reasons for team members to be on the bench such as:

  1. Having nothing relevant to add to the discussion.
  2. Not being up to speed on the topic of conversation.
  3. Lacking familiarity with the organization or department.
  4. Being shy and/or uncomfortable speaking up in group settings.
  5. Having cultural beliefs, traditions or customs that inhibit them from speaking unless called upon, or confronting authority figures with a dissenting opinion.

There may also be undesirable reasons for team members to sit on the sidelines such as: 

  1. Feeling hurt because they have not received an engraved invitation to talk. 
  2. Being bored, disengaged, or disinterested in the discussion.  
  3. Acting self-conscious about their accent or other communication issues.
  4. Lacking confidence, and/or worried that their input will be ignored or discredited. 

What can be done to bring these employees back into the fold?

Solicit input directly

Some people prefer to be asked directly for their input vs. initiating a comment on their own. Make sure the question is sincere, and the intention is perceived as calling on someone for ideas vs.calling them out to embarrass them.  For example, “Zoe, what can you share about the new marketing direction?”

Seek input indirectly

Sometimes you can tell that team members want to contribute, but they can’t seem to find the right moment to get a word in edgewise. By offering numerous opportunities to participate, reluctant speakers may be more inclined to comment. For example, “We have heard from the same folks all morning. I would like to get some additional perspectives on this. Would anyone else care to jump in?”

Ask open-ended questions

Wh-questions typically lead to more discussion. “What did you learn at the training session,” will elicit more discussion than, “Did the training session go well?”

React to the passivity

If body language and facial expressions are signaling boredom, try changing your speaking style, getting up and moving, or saying something unexpected to shake things up.

Be patient and specific when repairing communication breakdowns

If you have a diverse team, an accent issue may complicate the free flow of information. It is best to be direct, and offer some suggestions that might facilitate better understanding. “I am sorry, Na. I didn’t quite understand what you said. Would you mind repeating your question a little slower/louder? I would really like to understand your thoughts on this project.”

Be open and understanding, even if you disagree

Thanks for your feedback, John. I am not sure that is the best way to proceed, but at this point, everything is on the table.”

Be gracious and grateful

By praising those team members who actively participate in the discussion, you send the message that engagement is valued and expected.

So elevate your team and your professional profile at the same time! Get in the game!