Get your team talking: 7 tips to increase collaboration in meetings

Team meetings are a great opportunity: for learning, collaboration, decision-making, innovation and much more. But they can also be a bit of a nightmare, especially if no-one is participating! The solution: cultivate your meeting facilitation skills.

Put simply, you need to get your team talking: in an environment that is open, enthusiastic, authentic, and respectful. 

Here are 7 tips to get your team actively involved in meetings:

  1. Tell your team in advance what to expect
  2. Cultivate the mindset of a great meeting facilitator: collaborative, energetic (and comfortable taking a back seat!)
  3. Be willing to suspend your own agenda
  4. Learn to ask 5 types of questions
  5. Add 2 new techniques to your listening skills
  6. Encourage and respect diverse views
  7. Build on your team’s input

Let’s look at each of these tips in a little more detail.

Meeting facilitation skills – 7 tips to get your team talking

1. Tell your team in advance what to expect

Don’t surprise your team, do what you can to make it easy for them to participate by signaling in advance what to expect.

In advance of the meeting:

  1. Provide a meeting agenda
  2. Give them 3 questions to consider
  3. Make it clear that you’ll be seeking their perspectives in the meeting

The questions you ask should introduce the topics you want to cover. For example, if you’re introducing a new project one of the questions might be:

What thoughts do you have about how we can make this a successful project?

2. Cultivate the mindset of a great meeting facilitator

There are 3 specific ways I’d encourage you to cultivate your meeting facilitator mindset. Aim to be:

Collaborative. Show genuine interest in what your team have to say. Thank people for their contributions. Make connections between comments made by different people.

Energetic. This does not mean being dialed up to the max. It means being mindful of the energy in the room and being one step ahead of your team, in terms of energy levels. Take this approach and they’re more likely to rise towards your energy, and then you can carry them forward.

Comfortable with taking a back seat. The greatest experience you can have as a meeting facilitator is to be forgotten! When your team is talking, sharing, exploring, collaborating – on topic but without your input – this is exactly where you want to be. When you get the chance, be quiet and take a back seat (and take a moment to feel pride in your team and what you have just achieved).

3. Be willing to suspend your own agenda

‘To facilitate’ means to make something easier. You can make it easier for your team to participate if you’re willing to suspend your own agenda (at least at the start of the meeting).

Be willing to spend time at the start of the meeting focused entirely on encouraging your team’s participation. Suspend your own agenda and be truly curious about your team’s input.

This practice this means:

  • Use your coaching skills to gather input
  • Don’t judge or comment on the input as you’re gathering it
  • Don’t share your own thoughts, yet

You can’t fake this, if you want your team to participate you must be genuinely committed to seeking their input. (If you’re not, take a moment to reflect on why not!).

4. Meeting facilitation skills – learn to ask 5 types of great questions

There are 5 types of great questions that you can use to get people talking in meetings:

1. Opening questions that help kick-start each topic. For example:

  • What are your thoughts about this?
  • What ideas do you have?
  • What challenges or opportunities do you see?

2. Inclusive questions that bring other participants into the conversation. For example:

  • What do other people think?
  • Does anyone have a different perspective?
  • Jason, what are your views on this?

3. Clarifying questions that resolve ambiguity and explore further. For example:

  • Please, tell me more?!
  • Can you give me an example of that?
  • Can you please explain in a little more detail?

4. Reflective questions that encourage deeper exploration. For example:

  • If that were the case, what impact would there be?
  • What would happen if we go down that path?
  • What impact would that have on employees? (or managers, customers, SAS, etc)

5. Consensus building questions that move the team forwards. For example:

  • What themes can you see, in our discussion?
  • From the discussion, what do we agree on?
  • What are our areas of difference? (And, who can propose a way forward?)

For all these questions, be willing to ask the question, and be comfortable with silence. If you’ve asked a good question your team will need a little time to think.

DO NOT answer your own questions! Be comfortable with the silence and wait for your team to respond. They’ll soon learn that they need to participate.

5. Meeting facilitation skills – add 2 new techniques to your listening skills

You’ve asked a great question, now you need to listen to the response. Take a look at how to be a better listener, it will help you get started towards cultivating your listening skills.

In terms of meeting facilitation skills, there are a couple of additional points that you need to add to your listening skills.

  1. Make connections to what has been said previously
  2. Listen for themes: areas of agreement and disagreement

Use phrases like:

Good point, that thought connects back to the comment that Mabel made about…

6. Encourage and respect diverse views

In your team you’ll likely have some natural talkers, and some more introverted team members who are less comfortable sharing their views.

You’ll likely have some quite conventional thinkers, and those more naturally able to see radical alternatives.

You’ll have some of your team who form a natural majority: perhaps in terms of age, ethnicity, gender (and other aspects of identify). And you’ll have those in the minority too.

You may have many members of your team who have been with the company for a long time and 1 or 2 new to the company.

For all these aspects of diversity (and others too!), be willing to encourage participation, and respect and celebrate the diverse views that are expressed.

This required that you welcome ideas that are different from your own!

7. Build on your team’s input

There is a point in the meeting that you’re going to need to introduce your own thinking. Do this in 3 steps:

  1. Acknowledge all the great input. Don’t just say “thank you”. Summarize all the points that have been made (I hope you’ve been taking notes!). Take 2 or 3 of the most important contributions and explain why they’re so important. Thank the people who made the comments.
  2. Add anything that you feel is missing from the discussion. There may be some key points that your team has missed, you need to fill in the gaps.
  3. Explain if anything that has been mentioned that is off track. For example, maybe someone misunderstood a policy or process. You might have addressed this during the discussion, but as much as possible you want to keep the discussion flowing. As you build on all the contributions you can tidy up any misunderstandings too.

These 3 steps will give you a natural transition from expansive discussion into more focused action planning and next steps.

Meeting facilitation skills – final thoughts

If you have a naturally directive style of management (always telling your team what to do), it’s going to be hard for both you and your team to transition into this type of participative, collaborative meeting.

They’re unlikely to participate if their default mindset is ‘I’ll just wait to be told what to do’.

If this is the case, you’ll need to think about making small, incremental changes. And be consistent and persistent, to bring about a change in your team culture.

You might also want to reflect on how you want to be remembered as a leader.