There are times when we will encounter a working culture whose communication has turned backwards: issues are not addressed in meetings where they could be dealt with, but are instead discussed in secret among staff without ever being resolved. Not only is this an unproductive environment, it involves issues that if not resolved, can fester causing more damage in the long term. So how do we turn it around before the molehill becomes a mountain?
First, we need to understand why this type of meeting culture exists: there may be a lack of safety in speaking up. This usually comes from a fear that challenging the ideas of leadership might be a “CLM” (career limiting move), or that criticizing the work of one’s teammates could lead to a less than pleasant working relationship. They might also have simply never been asked to contribute: work culture is top-down, and if the established processes do not solicit participation, it’s normal to see an unengaged team.
The secret to overcoming, and eventually changing these dynamics lies in leadership – understanding how to better engage staff. Start a dialogue with the team leaders and/or management to encourage them to change their meeting dynamics. They may be stepping out of their own comfort zone to do this, but this is a chance for everyone to grow, and leaders need to know that starts with them.
Here are some suggestions for how leaders can change the tone of the meeting. We’ll go from the boldest to most passive:
If the work culture or leadership isn’t open to this type of approach, or it isn’t effective when implemented, we can turn to the power of anonymity and confidentiality.
In every case, you will collect the information and present it to the leadership at the next meeting, shifting the responsibility off of the team.
These techniques will produce an immediate positive effect on the meeting culture of any organization, but they also help you to figure out the deeper problems underlying the team. You’ll learn the true nature of the team you’re working with and what really matters to them. Then you can prioritize the right changes and work to ensure a culture of engagement. Here are a few ways you can nurture this new spirit of openness with the team. Feel free to use one or combine them all!
There’s another crucial way to keep the culture open and positive – making sure to invite the right team members to each meeting. For an in-depth look at this topic and some key techniques to eliminate meeting bloat, check out my post “Who to invite”!
Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!