“How can I get my team to engage? I’m doing everything right, but they’re still just sitting there.”
I was talking with a frustrated leader at a healthcare facility. Her team meetings had always been lackluster, so she’d decided to fix them. She’d scoured the internet for best practices, then worked hard to get organized.
For the past month, she’d sent an agenda in advance of every meeting. She started precisely on time. She’d taken notes and ended on time too. And yet, after she talked through the agenda and they’d heard their first report, her requests for comments were met with crickets. No one had much to add. Many didn’t seem to be paying attention at all.
Unfortunately, while she’d diligently followed all those “best practices,” she’d missed the most important step.
If you want people to engage during a meeting, you have to make that clear up front. Great meetings get everyone engaged within the first five minutes.
Here are four ways to successfully open your meeting, and why it matters.
You can’t have a meeting of the minds if the minds aren’t in the meeting. Remember: Every person invited to your meeting was in the middle of doing something else right before it started. People arrive with minds full of tasks left undone and needs unfulfilled.
A successful opening should capture everyone’s attention. The phones will go dark, the typing stops, and eyes connect.
For example, some leaders welcome everyone at the door. A personal greeting and welcome works just as well in meetings as it does when hosting at home. Teams at Starbucks often pour each other coffee for a short tasting before the meeting begins. Even starting by clearly stating the meeting’s purpose, rather than the logistics, creates more energy.
There are many ways to command the attention of a room, but reading the agenda is not one of them. We do not meet in order to get through an agenda; we meet for a purpose. We meet to create shared understanding, to make decisions, and to set plans in motion.
We meet to make these decisions because we want everyone there to weigh in, to help find the best option, and then to commit to it. If we didn’t need that input or that commitment, we wouldn’t meet.
A successful opening makes the purpose of the meeting — why the meeting matters and why it’s relevant to everyone there — clear. The agenda is the how. Never start with how; start with why.
Then, to cement that purpose for each person, ask for their participation. If your team hasn’t engaged much in the past, don’t assume they know you care about that. After all, they didn’t have to engage before. I’m always surprised when a leader seeking more engagement admits that they’ve never asked for it.
So you’ve captured their attention and worked to make your aspirations for the meeting clear. Now, should you go over the agenda?
No. Not yet. First, you have to prove that you welcome engagement by getting everyone engaged right then and there: Everyone in the meeting should directly engage within the first five minutes.
This is why many meetings begin by going around the room to answer a simple question; it’s neither feasible nor polite to continue texting when a room full of people turns to you for an answer.
Other teams might choose to begin with a few minutes of meditation. This helps clear the mind of lingering distractions, while making it impossible to continue fiddling about with a laptop.
Fighting off distraction makes productivity possible, and that’s a worthy goal.
Take a look again at those first three steps, and consider the message you can send in these first five minutes of your meeting.
There’s one more big one: A successful meeting opener should also tell people that it’s safe to speak up in this group. It tells each person that they matter, that they belong, and that the other people there care about what they have to bring to the table. Doing this sets the frame for everything that follows, and the right frame makes meetings more productive and more meaningful.
Knowing you’ll meet with your team once a week, consider the impact that investing in these first five minutes might have on your team’s culture. Then, start experimenting. Don’t worry about getting it perfect on your first try. If you’re clear about your purpose and ask your team to engage with you, you won’t have to get it right on your own. You’re meeting so that you can get it right together.
Originally published on Business Insider.
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