Get Employee Engagement at Meetings

Do you try to engage your staff at meetings to foster teamwork and get their ideas only to get a dead pan look, crossed arms and rolling eyes? The theory is if you buy them lunch you can get them engaged, or at least they should appreciate your efforts. The truth is, there are many reasons why your staff may be resisting the participation.

1. They feel that it won’t be taken seriously anyway so why bother.
2. Peer pressure. It’s more “cool” to have an “us against them” mentality.
3. The questions are not framed to allow for participation. (Too broad)
4. Fear of rejection.
5. No feedback or recognition when suggestions are given.

Do any of these reasons resonate with you? One of the biggest human needs besides safety is status, particularly in the workplace. So, you need to make sure that employees feel safe when participating, and you need to build in some rewards so that they see sharing ideas as a way to increase their status. With that in mind, some of these problems listed can be solved with good facilitation skills and a little planning.

1. Frame the question
Instead of saying “do you have any ideas for improvement?” State the specific problem and ask them to help problem-solve. It’s easier to come up with suggestions if the question is more narrowly framed. For example, “Our problem is each week we have a list of tasks that do not get done because these tasks are not necessarily a priority, but then we get behind the next week because we are behind. What are some possible solutions?”

Make sure you set the rules for this type of problem-solving so that all ideas are considered and not discounted.

2. Go in order
Ask each person to come up with at least one idea, even if it’s a small idea. Be comfortable with the silence that may occur right before the first word is spoken.

3. Warm them up
Get them started by doing a little brainstorming session. Ask your staff about something that is already positive, or something that is already working. In other words, find something to get feedback about before you open for problem-solving.

4. Group Participation
If you have six people, have them work in groups of two, three each. Give them time to brainstorm either before or at your meeting, then make a list of their suggestions.

5. Make it part of the agenda
Make it a requirement before the meeting for your people to come up with a suggestion. Put this on the agenda, so they get used to it. This will change the culture eventually.

6. Reward
good ideas report back at the next meeting which idea was used and why. Compliment all for their participation and reinforce that good ideas often come from an idea that was not completely developed. Let them know that what works today may be ineffective in two years, just as electricity made the candle an ineffective use of reading light.

7. Always show respect
Even when you hear something crazy, you must exhibit self-control. When I first started speaking, my expressions always betrayed my feelings. Once on a feedback form, someone said that when I disagree with others I roll my eyes. I tell you this to show you how unaware we are sometimes. Learn how to come from a place of curiosity instead of judgment. Once they trust you they will have not only some good ideas, they will also have your back.