How Leaders Can Orchestrate Meetings For 100% Participation

By Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.

We have all heard about the 20/80 ratio of team member participation in meetings and how the goal is to shift the ratio from 20/80 to 80/20.  What about 100% participation? Setting this goal and attaining it requires deep thought into why some members hold back. I am going to use the analogy of the conductor of an orchestra.

Every player has a part to play in the orchestra. Each musician brings the expertise of their instrument in order to produce a fine piece of music. Even if it is a small part in the orchestral piece being performed, they are vital and thus valued for the part they play.  Consider the person who plays the timpani. That individual may wait and count endless bars of music before hitting the drums to add a timbre and sound like no other instrument can produce. Using this analogy is a way to start considering your team members. What part do they play on the team? What unique talent do they possess, adding value to the team as a  whole? These are some of the questions you can ask to begin to understand why some members hold back.

Once you uncover their unique strength, the next question to consider is, are they aware of their strengths? I know this may sound odd.  However, often when coaching, I will realize a strength that my client  has and comment, “That is a strength you bring!” After I say this, I am usually met with a long pause, and then the common response is, “Really?  I just do this naturally.” We explore this strength at length. I get them to articulate it to bring awareness of the value of it and how they need to own it as a strength. By having this awareness, they can use it more productively and consciously. Each individual I work with begins to realize how they can better use their strength and bring value to their team. My point here is, some individuals hold back from participating, unaware of the strengths they bring to the team because they “just do this naturally” and are unconscious of the value of this strength.

Like a conductor, leaders need to know the strengths of each team member and the value their expertise brings to the team. Gaining a deep understanding and awareness of what each member of your team brings,  will not only help draw them out in team meetings but also gives you an edge when it comes to how to make the best use of their talents. If you are not sure of the strengths they bring, have them take an emotional intelligence assessment to uncover their strengths and what needs development. From this assessment, they can design a plan to gain additional strengths.

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In review, here are some of the key questions you should ask (and  answer) in order to bring about 100% participation during team meetings:

1. How come some members hold back?

2. What prevents them from participating?

3. What part do they play on the team?

4. What unique talent or strength do they possess?

5. Are they aware of their strengths?

These five questions are more of a circular loop that leads to more questions rather than a linear process. For example, if the answer is  “yes” to that last question — are they aware of their strengths? — you must consider why they hold back. How is the meeting conducted? Do some members dominate the meeting? Do some members bring attention to themselves as a norm for the meetings? Do you, as the person leading the meeting, tend to dominate the meeting rather than orchestrate the flow so it becomes a platform for 100% participation? If you tend to dominate or allow others to dominate the meeting, how can you conduct the meeting more like a conductor where each player participates?

Using only the baton, without saying a word, the conductor points draws out, leans in with subtle nuances, and indicates who needs to start playing. The conductor only uses body language, thereby illuminating how effective that can be. Body language is a huge part of how we communicate. Consider using your arms to beckon to someone as a way to draw them into the discussion along with a question that calls upon their strengths.

In this manner, you are orchestrating a meeting, so every member has participated. Having a goal of 100% participation is not about how much someone has contributed, it is, like the timpani player, the idea that they participated at a crucial moment to bring in a different voice, a  different timbre. And, like the conductor at the end of the performance,  acknowledge the orchestra. Recognizing your team after the meeting for their contributions will encourage a 100% outcome for future meetings.

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