How to Get Your Project Team to Speak Up in Meetings
By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL
I’ve never been a “big meeting” kind of guy. While many people find it hard to believe, I’m an introvert (INTJ on the Myers Briggs scale) and I tend to sit there and let the extroverts “think out loud” and the self-promoters hog the conversation. I was once pulled aside by my boss who rightly chastised me for not participating enough.
He told me he not only wanted to hear my opinions, he needed to hear them given my substantial expertise and background in the issues at hand. He was right. After that, I tried hard to participate more, but to be honest, it wasn’t easy. Over time and with a lot of practice, I’ve gotten more comfortable in big meetings, but I’d still rather avoid them if I could!
You see, I’m at my best (or at least most comfortable) one-on-one or in very small group meetings. And, I’m not alone.
There are thousands of people just like me, and chances are you have a few on your project team. But like my old boss, you not only want to hear their thoughts and opinions, you need to hear them. That introvert sitting at the end of the conference table, off to the left (which is the best place to “hide” in a meeting) could probably save you from an embarrassing situation with a key stakeholder or might have the best idea to solve a thorny problem.
So, how do you get that person to speak up?
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Bob Frisch and Cary Greene offer the following suggestions for ferreting out that important information from your team.
Take anonymous polls.
Ask people to write down questions or concerns on index cards, put them into a bowl and read them aloud without using names. Better yet, use a polling app or device to query meeting participants and see their answers in real time.
Heat map the topic.
Put poster-size charts of the components of an idea or plan on the wall. Ask participants to place yellow dots on the charts where they have a question and red dots where they have a significant concern. Use the dots to guide the conversation.
Break up a big group.
People are more likely to participate in small group discussions. So divide people into teams with specific instructions to discuss any challenges to the proposal at hand. Appoint a representative from each group to summarize their and their colleagues’ thoughts.
Ask them to empathize.
People are often more willing to speak on others’ behalf than their own. So when you solicit opinions with a question like “What objections or concerns might your direct reports have?” it can open the floodgates of reaction. That’s because it allows those in the room to externalize criticism. It’s not what they don’t like. It’s what they think their people won’t like.
I’d like to suggest two more ideas:
Meet with your team members individually.
Sure, it takes more time but you’ll avoid all those weird meeting dynamics inherent in large gatherings.
Use the old school technique of calling on the person who’s not speaking.
While you don’t want to embarrass someone into participating in the discussion, projects are important and soliciting your team members’ thoughtful advice trumps worrying about whether they feel as if they’re being picked on.
And one last piece of advice: the next time someone doesn’t speak up but approaches you later with concerns about what was said or decided in the meeting, remind them that it’s important for them to participate in the group setting. It shifts the burden of action from them to you, and we both know you have better things to do.
Learn more about IIL’s Leadership training at www.iil.com.
J. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.