Business Meetings 411: Ensuring Balanced Participation

Balanced ParticipationWhile balanced participation is essential for harnessing the creative genius of teams, business meetings often get bogged down. If extroverted team members dominate, this can discourage others from contributing.

Teams can make better decisions than individuals, but only if group interaction is managed effectively. To ensure balanced participation, in addition to a meeting chairperson, appoint a facilitator to lead discussions, monitor group interaction and ensure balanced participation. Try the following strategies at your next board meeting, task force, or team building retreat.

Use Your Handheld Mike as a Talking Stick

Some ancient First Nations, African and Aboriginal cultures have a talking-stick tradition. When important community discussions are taking place, the talking stick indicates the person who has the opportunity to speak. Bring this ancient tradition into meetings and boardrooms. Even in small groups, cross talk and poor acoustics can limit participation. Provide a handheld mike or a real talking stick. Explain how talking sticks work. Stipulate that, when holding the stick, participants can speak for 2 - 3 minutes without interruption.

Reflection Time

Breakthroughs often come after periods of quiet reflection. Build this into your meetings.

  • Distribute large fluorescent Post-It notes or index cards.
  • Identify the issue of concern.
  • Give the group time to work individually and write down as many solutions as possible.

 


Bright IdeaPlay background music if a lot of "right brain"-oriented learners are attending the meeting.

Use scenic music videos if the group is composed of visual learners.


Ask team members to post the Post-It notes on a flip chart or place the index cards in a pile on the table when they have captured their ideas. Review the proposed solutions and identify those with merit.

Give More Air Time to the Minority Point of View

Consensus can be the enemy of good decision making. When "groupthink" sets in, decisions are made too quickly without exploring alternative courses of action. If a few participants are proposing a solution that is different from the rest of the group, press the pause button. Take the time to really hear alternatives that are being proposed and give them serious consideration.

Balanced participation doesn't always come naturally. Sometimes group leaders need to intervene and help the process along. The next time your group is getting bogged down, experiment with some of these strategies and post your comments to let other readers know the results.

Give Subject Matter Experts Extra Weight

Majority rules is not always the best way to arrive at optimal decisions. Resolving some issues requires highly technical or specialized knowledge. When subject matter expertise is essential, to quote George Orwell, "We are all equal but some of us are more equal than others."

Give participants with relevant expertise an opportunity to make short informal presentations to share with the group. (A storyboard format provided in advance can help them quickly pull together, targeted mini-presentations.) When it's time to vote, assign extra votes to the members of the team with special expertise.


Bright IdeaFor kinesthetic learners, distribute numbered tiles or even play money. Give higher value tiles (or currency denominations) to subject matter experts. Create an informal voting booth. Give participants an opportunity to cast their votes by placing the tile or currency into a cup or box for their selected option. Tally the votes.


Balanced participation doesn't always come automatically. Sometimes group leaders need to intervene and help the process along. The next time your group is getting bogged down, experiment with some of these strategies and post your comments to let other readers know the results.

Photo Credits: michiwend

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