5 tips for more equitable meetings

When requested to explain how they really feel about meetings, many professionals will use the same language: “boring,” “inefficient,” and “unproductive.” Whereas these descriptors could ring true for some, they don’t ring true for all. For some, meetings aren’t boring—they’re traumatic. They aren’t inefficient—they’re isolating. They aren’t unproductive—they’re complicated.

If you’re becoming a member of a gathering the place persons are totally different from you, whether or not when it comes to race, ethnicity, gender, intercourse, sexual orientation, means, faith, age, language proficiency, socioeconomic background, training, diploma of introversion, degree of seniority, or different traits, then your identification can affect not solely how others see you, but in addition the way you see your self.

What in case you are an introvert amongst extroverts; a lady inside a male-dominated work atmosphere; a non-native English speaker amongst native audio system? There are even less-obvious distinctions that may set you aside, like being somebody who didn’t get employed from a “goal” college or failing to search out widespread floor along with your coworkers when it comes to life expertise.


The self-doubt and imposter syndrome might be paralyzing. Unstated guidelines and hidden expectations solely make meetings more difficult to navigate.

What’s my unstated position on this assembly—to be seen and heard, seen however not heard, or neither?

What do I do if my viewpoint differs from the highest-ranking individual, loudest talker, or lengthiest rambler?

Ought to I take motion after this assembly to step up—and danger backing myself into doing non-promotable “workplace housekeeping”? If I lie low will I danger coming throughout as uncommitted?

When your thoughts is full of this inner dialogue, you’ll possible really feel stress, isolation, and confusion. After which it’s possible you’ll get the sensation that each one coworkers see and choose you by is your silent disengagement.

Meetings will not be a degree enjoying area, however there are methods to make them more snug for everybody. Listed here are 5 “non-norm” norms to enhance your meetings’ fairness and ensuing productiveness.

Table of Contents


Agendas and assembly aims

It’s onerous to ascertain a degree enjoying area if solely essentially the most skilled or well-connected individuals have the required background data. It’s onerous to rein within the tangents if nobody is aware of what the subject was to start with. Image what success seems to be like on the finish of the assembly, then work backward: What selections do you wish to have made? What matters do you wish to have mentioned? What info do individuals must have coming into the assembly? A brief e-mail with a couple of attachments and bullet factors is all it takes to provide everybody a good begin and to maintain everybody on activity.

Unbiased brainstorming

You’re unlikely to unlock your crew’s most authentic concepts when you don’t give individuals time to course of, unhindered by the affect of others. Contemplate sharing questions forward of time and asking everybody to come back with reactions ready. If a dialogue arises through the assembly, contemplate pausing and giving everybody a second to put in writing down their very own ideas. In any other case, you’ll solely hear from essentially the most assured individual—adopted by a couple of individuals’s intestine reactions to that individual’s quick considering.

Spherical robins

You aren’t taking advantage of each mind within the room if two persons are crowding out the opposite eight. And also you positively gained’t hear from everybody if the ladies or individuals of colour are at all times those taking notes. Somewhat than asking “What do you assume?” and letting a couple of voices hijack the dialogue, contemplate taking turns, giving everybody the choice—and time—to talk or cross. Do the identical with note-taking roles: Somewhat than wait for a lady to volunteer (or be “voluntold”), set up a rotation. In any other case, you may as properly simply ask essentially the most extroverted or senior man for their opinion.

Blind votes

Simply because everybody says “positive” doesn’t imply you’ve secured everybody’s buy-in. Keep away from asking “Who’s in?” after which ready for those that lack the seniority, confidence, or repute to succumb to the peer stress and lift their hand too. As a substitute, contemplate administering an nameless ballot, whether or not over Zoom, by way of Google Docs, or, if in individual, by having everybody put their heads down and lift their fingers. In any other case, you danger at all times deferring to essentially the most senior individual or loudest individual.


Restaurant waitstaff are skilled to repeat again orders to keep away from relaying the mistaken message to the kitchen. Airline pilots are skilled to repeat again directions from the air site visitors management tower to keep away from making the mistaken maneuvers. This follow is simply as related for the workplace the place “positive” can imply “sure” in some settings however “no” in others, or the place “We’ll determine it out” can imply “You’ll determine it out.” Earlier than ending meetings, make clear who will do what and by when. Contemplate even having every individual repeat again their very own subsequent steps to make it possible for what individuals heard is in keeping with what was stated.

The choices I’ve laid out require elevated effort and time, however the clear selection is both you spend more time being deliberate as a gathering organizer, or waste your whole group’s time. Do not forget that simply because somebody isn’t talking up doesn’t imply they don’t have something to say. It might be that they don’t really feel like they’re being provided the chance or protected area to share their viewpoint. Exhibiting more deliberate actions with meetings makes the crew more inclusive, collaborative, and—in flip—productive.

Gorick Ng is a profession adviser at Harvard Faculty, specializing in teaching first-generation, low-income college students and professionals. He has labored in administration consulting at Boston Consulting Group and is a researcher with the Managing the Way forward for Work venture at Harvard Enterprise College. His first guide, The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, will probably be launched in April 2021.