A meeting where all team members are speaking up, listening to each other, and actively participating can really inspire a team. An engaged meeting builds team spirit, collaborative teamwork, and enthusiasm. It brings more heads together to get your work done and done well.
Disengagement in team meetings, however, drains everyone involved. It lowers moods, makes people feel like their teammates don’t care, and makes it less likely that information will be retained or acted on. If your meetings aren’t engaging, you’re wasting the two biggest resources you have — the time and the talents of your team.
Luckily, meeting engagement is something that you can encourage with just a few simple steps. Structure, preparation, and support for collaboration are key. You want to make employees feel that their ideas are valued and welcome and build meetings that foster easy conversation and teamwork.
Incorporate these five practices to have effective meetings that everyone on your team engages with.
1. Do your prep to make sure meetings are necessary and useful
The first step in improving meeting engagement is putting in pre-work ahead of time to set meetings up for success. Figure out who needs to be there, how long it needs to be, and what resources you need to gather ahead of time to hold a productive meeting.
Assesses whether this needs to be a meeting or if it would be more appropriate as an async collaboration. Write up an agenda that clearly outlines the purpose and intended outcome of your meeting.
This is helpful because it ensures that employees aren’t drained by attending too many unnecessary meetings. Active meeting participation will drop off if they get used to sitting in on meetings where their contributions aren’t needed. Instead, with only the important meetings to focus on, they will be more productive and engaged.
It is also vital to share the meeting agenda early so that team members have time to think about the topic of the meeting and generate ideas to share. Not everyone does their best thinking in the moment. For those employees who take more time to think over topics, having an agenda ahead of time will ensure that they have things to share during the meeting.
Related: 5 Tips to Take More Effective Meeting Notes
2. Get team members in the right mindset with icebreakers
Icebreakers and check-ins get team members in the mindset to talk and engage during meetings. It’s hard to jump into a conversation without a warmup! Icebreakers are especially important to help introverts, new team members, or anyone else who might have trouble getting out of their comfort zone and speaking up.
You can try out a few different icebreakers to see what works for your team and tailor them for in-person, hybrid, or virtual meetings.
- Games. People enjoy games. They can lift moods and get people excited. Try games where team members have to collaborate in order to build those skills.
- Check-ins. Start a meeting by encouraging team members to share their status updates or what kind of mindset they’re in that day. If everyone’s high energy, you can have a more active meeting. If folks are run-down from an intense work sprint, you might decide together to keep the meeting brief and focused.
- Questions. Start your meeting by going around with an icebreaker question. This gets everyone’s minds working and makes sure everyone speaks at least once. Icebreaker questions are an especially good strategy for a virtual meeting.
- Activities. Try a collaborative activity that gets team members working together on something fun or interesting. Virtual whiteboards are a great way to work together to create a team map, dream board, or just share silly team facts.
- Create ground rules. You can set the stage by collaborating on creating team agreements or ground rules together. They will help team members feel respected and safe in contributing.
3. Facilitate your meeting to create a supportive environment
Meeting facilitators play an important role in making sure participants feel safe and are encouraged to participate. Choose a facilitator before the meeting. The role can change between team members from meeting to meeting, or the team lead can play the role.
Facilitators should set an example by listening to everyone and treating their ideas with respect. They can gently redirect any behavior that discourages engagement, such as side conversations, interrupting, and shooting down ideas.
When the conversation lapses, they can ask guiding questions. If they notice specific team members are quiet or distracted, they can bring the conversation to them by asking their opinion. Facilitators can guide a brainstorming session in the right direction by redirecting conversations if they get off track.
4. Use visual platforms to open up collaboration
Visual aids encourage collaboration by helping participants understand each other’s thoughts better and visualize the bigger picture they’re putting together in real time. You might draw out notes on a whiteboard or sketch ideas on a piece of paper to help organize your thoughts.
Online whiteboards are an even more powerful tool for collaborating visually. All team members can add their ideas simultaneously without stepping on each other's toes, and you build automatic meeting notes that get saved for reference later. You can even set up a template that will guide your meeting in the right direction from the start.
Visual aids also make it easier for participants who are more visual learners rather than auditory. Everyone absorbs information differently, so making more modes of collaboration accessible encourages different types of people to be more engaged.
5. Hold reflections to improve meeting effectiveness over time
You can build more engaged meetings over time by reflecting on what is going well in meetings and what you can work on improving. Hold regular meeting reflections so that team members can share their thoughts and think critically about how you’re approaching meetings.
A meeting reflection is a space where team members have a chance to flag small problems so they don’t become bigger over time. They can also speak up if they have ideas for how to make meetings more engaging or function better for the specific people involved.
Give team members a chance to identify why they’re not engaging as much as they can and work out solutions as a group. If meeting participants are actively involved in creating the types of meetings that feel productive for themselves, they’ll be more engaged overall.
Bonus tip: Try making your meeting asynchronous to free up your team’s schedule
Asynchronous (or async) meetings give team members the opportunity to contribute to the discussion without having to compete for airtime. This helps level the playing field and allow everyone to participate, regardless of their communication style or level of introversion. When all team members have a chance to share their thoughts and ideas, it can help to increase engagement and buy-in from the entire team.
Async meetings also allow for team members to carefully consider their responses on their own time, providing more thoughtful and well-constructed feedback. This can lead to more productive and meaningful discussions, increasing team engagement and boosting productivity.
Meetings are broken, but async work can fix them. Get the guide on async collaboration.
Plan meetings that will build your team spirit
You don’t just want team meetings to be active; you want to foster team engagement that lasts. Engaging meetings are a key component of employee engagement overall. They give everyone an opportunity to share their thoughts, learn from each other, and build the trust and connections they need to collaborate throughout their work.
To ensure your meetings are truly engaged, build a culture of collaboration and support throughout your team. Use platforms like Mural to get teams in the habit of collaborating, contributing, and sharing their ideas. The more used to sharing ideas your teams are, the more they will engage during meetings and outside of them.