One of my worst recollections of corporate life was the number of meetings I had to attend – not because they were not necessary or unimportant, but because they were either not focused and boring, or because a few people dominated what was supposed to be a discussion and deliberation. Non-participation in processes (including meetings) generates feelings of “I’m not really part of this and thus not really of any value to the group or company. Why bother attending anyway?” These feelings breed contempt and mistrust. When employees participate honestly and openly, however, they learn the ability to work with others in creating necessary changes. This, in turn, creates a sense of ownership and lasting relationships, which again translates into the development of attitudes and behaviour that foster the participatory practices leading to changes. In other words, participation in meetings is, in and of itself, a learning process and beneficial for employee and team growth.

For participatory meetings to be growth stimuli and achieve the objectives set for the meetings, leadership style must be aligned with participatory principles – a belief that everyone has a valid contribution to make, that employees can come up with creative and helpful ideas and that the participatory process is a learning and ownership exercise for everyone involved. Questions, suggestions or ideas may stimulate further thinking and lead to better solutions. This attitude prevents the overriding of ideas, the discounting of contributions and putting people down. It embraces the best that everyone has to offer and attempts to crucible a better way. A participatory process will not get favourable results if leaders are nervous about losing control – however, when control and acceptance of responsibility are shared within a constructive structure and an agreed solution is produced, it will usually add immense value and improve the quality of decision made.

Some tips for facilitating inclusive meetings include the following:

  • Outline the intended inclusive nature of the meeting and state its purpose – an environment of trust needs to be created for everyone to feel comfortable enough to participate. Furthermore, stating the need and value of everyone’s participation would be wise – this is called “extending trust”.
  • Offer an “agenda in progress” and request others to offer helpful suggestions to complement the items already on the agenda – this reinforces the inclusive nature of the proposed meeting and in advance stimulates employees to think about the subject matter to be discussed.
  • Give everyone topic-related pieces of research to do before the meeting – giving people responsibility for presentation breeds ownership and involvement.
  • Sit in a circle or form discussion circles – not only will everyone be able to see each other and make eye contact with each other, but a circle demonstrates the sharing of power. Job level sensitivity could be neutralised by using this method.
  • Facilitate with skill, never putting people down or discounting ideas – there is probably a bit of good in whatever is offered, so build on what comes out.
  • Have plenty of stationery – flipchart paper, pens, etc., are important tools to capture ideas and start formulating potential solutions.
  • Ask groups to crystallise their thinking by presenting to the larger group – this has the effect of focusing the discussion (get someone to take notes).
  • Communicate after the meeting with everyone – thank them for their participation, express the value of the process and give them feedback on what the meeting achieved.
  • Indicate intended changes and assign responsibilities to individuals/groups – the outcome of the meeting should generate further involvement and commitment to change/improve. Give employees timelines with clear expectations and reporting frameworks.

Meetings that are inclusive and offer opportunities for participation have profound impact on employees. The sharing of ideas and skills get carried to their respective workplaces and a sense of ownership is generated. Self-discovery lies at the heart of growing expertise and subsequent behaviour – a participatory meeting facilitates this self-discovery.

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