Ever notice how the same people tend to talk a lot in meetings, and those who usually stay quiet never speak up? Quiet COOs against vehemently outspoken CEOs are a common example of how communication in most top-level meetings are quite lopsided, with one party doing all the talking. As the Chief Operating Officer, you might have felt that you could have added good value, if only you were given the chance to speak. The same applies down the rungs as well. In other words, if you are a 2nd in Command who has to remain quiet when the top brass meets, the least you can do is encourage the quiet employees who report to you to speak up.
And oh, if you are a CEO, you are essentially 2nd in command to no one, meaning that you have no outside perspective if you don’t encourage others to speak up to you.
In order to run successful meetings, you must engage every meeting participant, especially the ones who typically remain silent. With some encouragement, these people could really add value to the discussion.
During meetings, foster dialogue with the newcomers or quiet folks first, and then move around the table, moving up in seniority as you solicit feedback. Leaders should always give feedback last so that they don’t sway the group one way or the other. This is actually one of the key employee management tips that are taught at CEO, CFO and COO training seminars, to help executives build a more cohesive team.
Another strategy for fostering useful communication during meetings is to employ a strategy I learned from GE’s Six Sigma Workout Process, another standard item in CEO, CFO and COO training seminars.
It’s easy: simply give every meeting participant some adhesive notes, and instruct them to write down five to ten ideas, one per note.
I once did this with a client who wanted to find ways to increase revenue and decrease expenses. We gathered his 40 employees in a room and in only five minutes, we’d generated 150 ideas, which were then put up on the wall as each person read their own ideas aloud.
Imagine: 150 ideas in an hour! And everyone contributed. After the meeting, a few employees said it was the first time anyone had heard, listened to, or even asked for their ideas. Simple and highly effective.
And make sure people aren’t distracted by email or texting. I don’t mind if people bring iPhones to meetings and taking notes on your laptop is useful too. But email distracts others and yourself from the task at hand.
If you suspect someone is emailing, ask them to stop typing and show everyone what they’re doing. If you catch them emailing, they owe $10 or $20 to the company’s entertainment fund or company charity. Works like a charm! And, if you call someone on it and you’re wrong, you owe them lunch instead! It’s a fun way to enforce meeting etiquette, without rebuking and insulting employees. I once saw a Chief Operations Officer go 0 for 7 calling out employees he thought were emailing, when all they were doing was taking notes on his speech! He lost $70, as he had promised to hand out a ten each time he called someone out wrongly. Sure, he lost $70, but he sent out a pretty darn good message.