Get More Out of Meetings (With Just One Question)

We try to get out of them and we do everything we can to avoid them, but meetings aren’t going anywhere. 

So how can leaders ensure that we get the most out of them?

In his HBR article Paul Axtell outlines five key complaints that people have against meetings:

  1. One or two people dominate the conversation and no one does anything about it.
  2. My boss doesn’t lead meetings effectively.
  3. Most of our meetings are just passing along information that could easily be sent in an email. We don’t talk about real issues.
  4. No one is paying attention because they’re on their phones or laptops.
  5. We keep having the same conversations because nothing gets done between meetings.

I’m sure that, like me, you found yourself nodding your head as you read some of these complaints. 

If you look closely at most of our issues with meetings you will notice that the common thread of communication is woven right through them all. 

  • How do you manage people dominating the conversation?
  • What can you say to help get the most out of a meeting?
  • How do we make sure we are talking about the right things?
  • How can we get people to pay attention? 
  • How do we hold people accountable to ensure work gets done? 

There are plenty of strategies that you could adopt to address these questions. But I want to suggest that one simple question can make a significant difference. Ready for it? 

What does everybody else think? 

It might sound simple, but it’s often the simple ideas that make a profound difference. When was the last time you asked this question in your team meeting? 

If you’re experience with conventional meetings is similar to mine you would find that most of the time the flow of communication is between team leader and team member. It’s an individual conversation taking place in a group, with the rest of the group waiting in line. A team member raises a concern, the team leader addresses the concern and other people join the conversation only if it is relevant to them (aka they have a problem with it). 

But what would it look like if you engaged the wisdom, ideas and expertise of your team to contribute to a bigger conversation (even if it’s not directly related to them)? What if you decided to make this a group conversation of individuals, each individual bringing their own strengths, insights and talents. What new ideas or solutions might you find through taking a more collaborative approach? 

I’ve found that asking this question often means

  • You hear the thoughts and ideas beyond just those dominant voices 
  • You bring out best ideas of the group, not just of those involved in the problem. 
  • The group holds each other to account on what should be discussed and what should be taken offline because they are all engaged in the conversation. 
  • People spend less time on their laptops and more time in the conversation 
  • The group will hold people to account on their commitments not just the leader. 

I agree with Gallup who have a saying that “there is no such thing as a well rounded person, but there is such thing as a well rounded team”. We need one another and we need the strength of a team.  

When was the last time you leveraged the collective strengths of your team to move from “individual conversations in a group” to “group conversations made up of individuals”?