Gregarious Gabrielle loves the weekly brainstorming meeting. She enjoys getting together with big groups of people for a high-energy discussion, where ideas are ping-ponged around, passionate views are exchanged, and decisions are made on the fly. The energy she gets from these meetings keeps her going for days.
Gabrielle talks fast and is always ready to offer her opinion on new ideas. She misses traditional in-person meetings and is trying to bring that same excitement to Zoom meetings, which is not always successful, but she keeps trying anyway.
Her colleague, Thoughtful Tim, enjoys their team meetings too. He finds them useful because he feels it gives the team an opportunity to reflect on important ideas together. He especially likes the smaller meetings of three to four people where he is not rushed to speak, the vibe is personal and calm, and integral decisions are made deliberately.
Tim is a deep thinker and wishes that Zoom meetings could have an “I’m thinking” button so people would stop checking if his connection has dropped when he’s simply weighing his words before speaking.
These might sound like two extreme examples, but every team has people who may remind you of Gabrielle, Tim, and everyone in between. Ensuring that your meeting culture matches the needs and personalities of each person on your team is really hard. But the value obtained from an inclusive culture, where everyone is valued for who they are and what they bring to the table, helps drive amazing results.
Speaking as someone who oscillates between being a Gabrielle or a Tim depending on the day, I’m here to tell you that, yes, it’s hard to structure meetings that work for varying personality types. But as managers, we can and should put in the effort required to make meetings inclusive, respectful, and beneficial for everyone.
If you’re a manager who wants your team members to succeed at their highest level, here are the specific steps you can take before, during, and after your meetings in order to make the environment psychologically safe and respectfully structured.
Before the meeting
- Circulate the meeting agenda in advance and encourage attendees to drop in their own items—or send a meeting prep polly using a prebuilt template. This way everyone will know what to expect and decide how they can most effectively contribute to the meeting.
- Reach out to quieter team members via direct message and invite them to share their thoughts on a specific question.
- If you need to collect feedback during the meeting, prepare the questions you’d like answered before the meeting starts so you’re not frantically clicking around during a solid discussion.
During the meeting
- Start with Icebreakers or Hot Takes to get everyone relaxed and in a sharing mindset. An opinion-based question in which everyone can participate and there are no right or wrong answers helps warm up the room and get people talking.
- Set time limits for sharing ideas. A two-minute slot is an accepted norm. This will help rein in some of the more talkative types and reassure the quieter ones that they need to talk for only a limited time.
- Tag people in advance who you would like to hear from. This could sound like: “OK, I’d like to say a few points on this, and afterward Gabrielle you can share your thoughts, and then Tim I’d like to hear from you.” This gives Gabrielle notice that there’s someone following her, so she needs to keep points succinct, and provides preparation time for Tim.
- Give everyone a voice by allowing for and encouraging responses through an Q&A polly. Discuss answers during the meeting or right after to discuss the feedback gathered.
- Provide processing time for people to reflect on what’s being shared. This could sound like: “Let’s take two minutes to just think over what we can do about this issue and then we can go around the table and get everyone’s thoughts.”
- Demonstrate that it’s fine to not have anything to say. This could sound like: “My thoughts on this aren’t fully formulated yet. Would anyone else like to go ahead while I keep thinking?”
- If possible, avoid making the absolute final decision during the meeting to allow for a more measured and thoughtful analysis. This sounds like: “Based on what we’ve discussed today, this is the direction I feel we’re heading toward. But let’s put our final thoughts in the team channel so we can reach a consensus.”
After the meeting
- Acknowledge participation by the Thoughtful Tims. It can be as simple as saying thank you and can go a long way in encouraging future participation. This could sound like: “I found your comment on the issue very interesting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!”
- Follow up via a polly or direct message to facilitate greater discussion. This could sound like: “Hey Tim, I wanted to hear from you regarding this issue. If you have any further thoughts about how we can manage Project X, let me know.”
- Give public shout-outs. Just because introverts stay out of the spotlight doesn’t mean they don’t like recognition. A group email or a post in the team channel highlighting contributions can make quieter types feel seen. This could sound like: “Thanks Tim for giving us all something to think about! Really liked your point about the new go-to-market initiative.”
By covering these small tasks before, during, and after a team meeting, you send a strong signal to each member that you value the team’s diverse perspectives.
Team diversity drives engagement and creativity, leads to more out-of-the-box thinking, and prevents groupthink, which is better for business. The richer your team is in terms of personalities, aptitudes, and communication styles, the better for business. The stronger your team culture is—where everyone feels valued, respected, and energized—the better for business.
Understandably, managing different personality types can pose challenges to bosses. When they are first implemented, some strategies may feel artificial, forced, or like needless additional work. Sometimes the talkative types will need help in passing the mic and giving the quieter ones opportunities to reflect. Other times introverts will need to be encouraged to make an effort to contribute and engage in discussions even if they haven’t fully formulated their thoughts yet.
But if you put in the work of implementing a mix of techniques to provide psychological safety and help each member of your team thrive, you benefit over the long term.
Remember, this is ongoing work. Personalities aren’t binaries, and how people behave moves on a spectrum. Humans change, situations evolve, and, as the pandemic has so clearly demonstrated, the ways we work together can and will continue to radically shift.
A good team leader is one who recognizes that fluidity and tries to improve working conditions as circumstances and people change because they know that when each person wins, the team wins.
Try Polly today to help build inclusive meetings.
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