How to Engage Employees in Meetings

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on October 3, 2011

The National Statistics Council estimates that employees spend nearly 37 percent of their workdays in meetings — and that 47 percent of this time is “unproductive.” Whether your confabs take place as organized gatherings in a conference room or informal huddles in a manager’s office, all employees must be present, participatory, and interested in what’s being shared in order for the event to be effective. Here are five ways to engage your staff in meetings and ensure their time is well spent.

  1. Listen more than you speak. Effective meetings start with a clear objective of what will be discussed, and potentially decided, by all parties who attend. But if the room is full of “too many chiefs,” even the most strategic agenda won’t lead to a productive outcome. If you are the meeting moderator or host, plan to speak for only 25 percent of the meeting — and listen for the rest. Set an expectation among attendees that they should do the same and keep responses succinct. Structure not only eliminates meandering conversations, but also ensures that everyone has an opportunity to participate and be heard.
  2. Carve out Q&A time. Keep employees engaged by allotting time to questions and answers that fall outside a meeting’s defined scope. Commit at least 15 percent of the meeting time to this Q&A, during which you can address potential “sidebar” issues relevant to the topic at hand. Keep the conversations brief and strive to quickly identify (and defer) issues that should be discussed further but “offline.”
  3. Keep it VIP. Once a meeting’s objective is set, be strategic with the guest list. Invite only people who can actively contribute to the objective or resolution. Likewise, if a key attendee is unavailable, reschedule the gathering instead of plowing ahead blindly.
  4. Go virtual. Technology still can’t replace the face-to-face discussion of certain matters, but when a meeting doesn’t involve pressing issues, consider going virtual. Various inexpensive video- or web-conferencing tools, such as Watchitoo and Zoho Meeting, work well for small business meetings. Employees will appreciate not having to sit in a board room or spend time traveling to a meeting venue when they can simply log in from home or their desks.
  5. Focus on getting results. Few things are more frustrating and less productive than meetings that fail to resolve anything. Set a company standard that all meetings must have a clear purpose and produce an outcome — and then make the results known. This will establish an understanding that actual business is accomplished in meetings and that all invitees need to show up, pay attention, and contribute.