By Wayne Turmel, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute.
Team conference calls can be downright painful. It often feels like an uphill battle to get people to contribute, ask questions and share information. As the leader, you do all of the talking and are often met with silence on the other end of the “line.”
You know how important collaboration is among your team members, but what can you do or say to encourage it? Funny enough, you should do as little as possible.
My colleague, and co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute, Kevin Eikenberry, has a simple rule for running meetings that maximizes input from participants: Other than saying “Hello” and formally starting the meeting (maybe), the leader should be the last to speak. Here’s why.
When you do all the talking, people tune out
In your average meeting, the leader welcomes everyone and does a roll call, which usually takes way too long and is interrupted by latecomers beeping in and asking “Can you hear me now?” Then the leader provides an update and asks for ideas, questions, or reports from the group. Then everyone hangs up, grateful the torture is over for another week, and goes back to work.
All too often there isn’t enough real conversation, sharing of information, or cries for assistance. This old process just isn’t the best way to engage people or keep them involved. It’s boring, people tune out and no one wants to speak up because they don’t want to prolong the meeting.
Hearing from everyone in a structured way eliminates the boring “roll call” approach
The longer people remain passive in a conference call or webmeeting, the more likely they are to stay that way. Think about it: If the supervisor’s report to the group is the only thing between them and the blessed relief of hanging up, why would they keep things going?
Don’t let them off the hook so easy, and expect (or even require) them to speak up early in the conversation. Why? As the leader, you often try to anticipate objections, problem and questions when you give a report. Often you over-communicate in an honest attempt to cover all the bases. By letting the others go first, you can identify areas of concern, confirm what people have said, and often speak less because that information has been covered.
If people know they’ll be expected to speak early, there’s a better likelihood of them showing up on time and ready to contribute.
You create a culture of active participation, rather than passive attendance
Nothing completely eliminates the problem of people “tuning out.” People will always answer emails rather than truly listening. They will daydream or doodle or surf the web. They may even resent the time they spend in meetings. Still, by expecting them to contribute throughout the meeting, you will reduce how much tuning out occurs because attendees will have told you what they know, what their concerns are, and what the gaps are, so you can then focus your remarks and discussion to what matters most to them.
If you want an even better level of participation, assign specific roles and subjects to your team members. When someone asks a question, rather than answer it yourself, have a coworker with expertise on the topic respond. Ask different team members to take the lead on various topics throughout the meeting, perhaps even opening and closing the meeting. Those types of activities create more of a true team where people rely on each other, and less on you. That’s a win-win. The team functions better and you gain back time to focus on bigger issues.
So, during your next meeting, speak less and watch as participation, information sharing and productivity increases.
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