As many companies grapple with getting their teams back in the office and others opt to try a hybrid model, you can be sure that the introverts among them are not thrilled. Since introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum, many of us possess both tendencies. Those of us who identify as mostly introverted are estimated to make up somewhere between 33% to 50% of the population, which means there are likely a few of these folks on your team feeling an enormous amount of anxiety right now just thinking about your next meeting.
Meetings offer a chance for teams to come together and discuss ideas, collaborate, plan ahead, and unblock each other. But it can be difficult to ensure introverts’ voices are heard. If you’re facilitating a meeting with a team composed mostly of introverts, you may know that getting contributions in a regular meeting format can be difficult.
That’s why it’s critical to build an inclusive meeting culture that considers the needs of both introverted and extroverted individuals. Designing inclusive meetings helps you to:
- Create a workplace where everyone can add value as their authentic self.
- Open up more diverse opinions and new ways of thinking.
- Ensure everyone is included and has an equal opportunity to participate.
There’s one thing that all teams need to make people feel good about contributing in meetings—and it’s not coffee and pastries (although those things certainly help). It’s psychological safety.
There are many things you can do to build psychological safety and it is the bedrock of authentic team relations.
Use one-on-ones strategically
Since introverts tend to prefer smaller group interactions, as a facilitator you can use your one-on-one meetings to have deeper conversations. If someone has mentioned something interesting that would be useful for the group, ask permission to raise it during the meeting.
This gives introverts validation of their ideas and helps them to contribute in meetings. And research even shows that team members who have regular one-on-one meetings are three times more engaged.
Poll the group in advance
Got a decision to make in your upcoming meeting? Send out a poll in advance. Introverts typically feel safer contributing when they have time to think about a topic before speaking on it. Polling ahead of time will also help kickstart the conversation since you can ask why a person selected a certain option. Consider keeping the poll results anonymous until everyone has voted. This can help improve overall psychological safety.
Break into small groups
Contributing to a big group can be intimidating. Some introverts may be afraid of saying the wrong thing or that the conversation will move too fast before they can get their point in. So breaking into small groups to work on a problem, ideate, or document a plan can help introverted people engage more and deliver better quality contributions. Pairing an introverted person with a more extroverted person allows the more extroverted person to report findings back to the group.
Encourage and value asynchronous input
Sometimes when a group is deep into a discussion and an introvert has something to contribute, it can be hard to get a word in. Encourage your team to do your ideation asynchronously before a meeting, so introverts have time to process their ideas and come to the meeting prepared. Alternatively, try encouraging introverts to use the chat function of your meeting tool when they have a burning point to make but can’t get it into the conversation. As a facilitator, make sure to treat those written contributions with the same attention you would someone speaking.
Run an online retrospective on your meetings to look back at what you liked, learned, lacked, and longed for or what you should start, stop, and continue. Regularly taking the temperature of your meetings will give you a clear way to process any tensions at risk of being buried. This can help you form a better and more inclusive meeting culture.
‘Heard, Seen, Respected’
If you’re serious about making your meetings more inclusive, try using the Heard, Seen, Respected activity from Liberating Structures to get the whole group reflecting more deeply on meetings. This gives each participant the option to tell a short story about a time in the meeting when they felt heard, seen, or respected. This knowledge helps every teammate understand better how their colleagues like to be treated and can set the stage for future inclusive meetings.
Creating a meeting culture that suits everyone on your team is no easy task. After all, humans are complex and it’s tough to satisfy everyone completely. But designing your meetings to be inclusive is possible is all about finding a mixture of techniques that help you best tap into the collective intelligence of your team.