I was talking about meeting engagement recently when I remembered this article Reid Hastie, a professor at U of Chicago in the NY Times that resonated with me. He wrote: “Once meetings are over, we don’t effectively assign responsibility for a bad meeting or take personal responsibility as we should. Sure, someone called the meeting, but we all leave it unhappy and blaming everyone, including ourselves. Psychologists call this “diffusion of responsibility” and one consequence is that no one thinks it’s his or her job to fix it the next time.
I USED to be the disengaged participant — one who had good ideas about how to solve a problem or conduct a meeting, but didn’t contribute. I now take a more active role, aiming to make meetings more effective.”
To at least some degree, we own our experience in meetings and we play a role in making them either a waste or a good use of our time. That leads me to think about four things that we should take ownership of to improve our own meeting experience.
- Whether or not to attend the meeting, and how long. In some cases, meeting attendance is mandatory, no questions asked. But in other cases, it is fair to ask why you need to attend this meeting; what are the objectives and how you are expected to contribute to them. Is it just to keep you “in the loop”? If so, you can listen to a recording at your convenience, read the meeting notes or schedule a 10 minute debrief with a colleague. Are you expected to “provide input”, but not evaluate options or make a decision? There is meeting technology ranging from web meeting software like ours to wikis and online team rooms where you can provide that input ahead of time. People often look at meeting attendance in black and white terms – either I go or I don’t go. How about attending only that portion of the meeting during which you add value? For example, participate in a brainstorm activity to provide your feedback on a recent announcement, then take your leave if you are not directly involved in the next steps.
- Whether or not to be prepared for the meeting. A best practice for well-designed meetings is to make sure participants know why they have been invited, what is going to be discussed (and in what format) and what the desired outcomes are. When this doesn’t happen, in the spirit of training your meeting leader to be better, contact him/her and ask “Could we see the agenda a few days before the meeting, so we can start thinking about the topics under discussion? Is there anything we can read and reflect on ahead of time? Is there some data you’d like us to provide beforehand?”
- Whether to multi-task or be engaged. This can be tricky – especially if the meeting is virtual (so tempting to catch up on email) or designed in a sequential way (eg: presentation followed by comments or going round the table). Start by taking responsibility for your own participation. For example, contribute to creating a more interactive meeting by noting who is asking interesting questions and responding directly to them rather than to the front of the room.
- Whether to provide feedback. Communicate high expectations. Do a mental evaluation at the end of the meeting. Send off a quick email to the facilitator – thank him/her for what worked well; make constructive requests for future events as needed.
Practice being a great meeting participant! Join our next free webinar in our Designing Interactive Webinar series – How to Keep Participants Engaged. This webinar is truly an interactive learning experience during which we explore as a group how to design webinars and virtual meetings that keep participants on the edge of their seats. The next webinar is March 3, 8 am PST. Click here for the details and to register.
Posted by Danuta McCall