people in a meeting

In April 2021, nearly four million American workers voluntarily quit their jobs – the highest number ever recorded by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. If nothing else, this is a sure sign that business leaders and managers need to work hard at boosting employee engagement and retention. One of the best, most effective areas where leaders and managers can focus on their people is the dreaded company, divisional, or team meeting. 

Meetings have always been bad. They were made all the worse through the pandemic as they were moved entirely online. While many folks enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, endless Zoom meetings led to mental and emotional exhaustion, along with a host of cringy Zoom fails

As many companies move back into the office full-time or continue to manage a hybrid work environment, business leaders and managers should rethink (yet again!) how to refocus their business meetings on collaboration. While at it, they should also use the opportunity to prioritize and demonstrate care for their people, their most precious resource. 

Here are five ways for business leaders to reset and re-energize their meetings – at whatever level – with an intentional focus on people, shared ownership, and care.

  1. Shape meeting culture through norms – Now is the time for leaders and managers to deliberately pause the everyday and say to their people, “Let’s talk about our meeting culture.” Bring together all your key people and ask them to create shared norms. If you make space for your direct reports and colleagues to develop collective norms, you’ll be surprised at what comes out of these discussions. Developing norms will take time. Relax. Giving your people the time and opportunity to define the meeting parameters and rules of engagement will pay dividends in the long term. Folks will feel like they share ownership of the meetings and are being collaborated with as opposed to being talked to. 
  1. Ground yourself in trauma-informed care – 2020-21 has undoubtedly been one of the most difficult periods personally and professionally in contemporary life. The pain, grief, and loss – the trauma – people have experienced over the last eighteen months are real and need to be addressed and dealt with if you and your company are to move forward. It’s no surprise that millions of American workers are throwing their hands up and walking away. This isn’t news – people know American work culture sucks.

    Trauma-informed care is a means of addressing individual workers and team members’ needs. Much of this work may happen outside of a meeting, in one-on-one consultations, employee resource groups, or comprehensive mental health support programs. But leaders and managers can run their meetings with a trauma-informed eye. What about opening a meeting – virtual or in-person – with a breakout session and some guiding questions that allow colleagues to share stories, laugh, or even get emotional with one another? Why not provide some meditative silence at the beginning of a meeting that allows folks to get centered? Why not take a break and encourage everyone to take a fifteen-minute walk and report back to the group with one thing they saw on their walk? These exercises take time but they demonstrate care and will encourage your people to bring their whole selves to work every day. 
  1. Develop meeting agendas with the help of others – This suggestion seems like the ultimate no-brainer. However, while many business leaders and managers think meeting agendas are clear, the inefficient truth hurts to the tune of close to $400 billion. With power comes great responsibility. Many leaders and managers don’t realize that their meetings are meandering and wasteful because they are setting the agenda alone and lose the perspective of other meeting participants. 

    Leaders and managers may actually get some value taking a page from the Quakers. For over 300 years, Quakers have been thinking about organizing meetings and have developed clear guidance for creating a respectful and unifying space for all involved. Business meetings are not Quaker worship spaces, but perhaps try experimenting by having a few of your direct reports help you in crafting your meeting agenda. They can share their perspective with you and help you gauge the time needed for agenda items. Again, this leads to positive engagement and ownership of the meeting because participants know that their peers had a hand in making it happen.
  1. Share meeting responsibilities – In the same vein, business leaders and managers should consider sharing or giving over meeting responsibilities to others on their team. Where appropriate, rotate the roles of timekeeper, notetaker, and summarizer – among other possible roles – so that team members have a shared sense of responsibility to each other for the effective running of a meeting. How much more effective would it be if a colleague ends the meeting with an action plan or to-do list and shares it with everyone? Would someone violating the shared meeting norms hear the reprimand better if it came from a peer? While this kind of shared ownership requires business leaders and managers to relinquish some level of control, it pays dividends in the end.
  1. Use in-person time for social connection – As tempting as it may be, do not host another Zoom cocktail hour. Please. After eighteen months in which the virtual cocktail hour was the only means of connection, people are over it. We learned early in the pandemic that virtual meetings were mentally and emotionally exhausting, and so their use for social connection is limited, if not null. If you still have to split time between virtual and in-person, prioritize social connection when you and your colleagues can have facetime. True, teams are increasingly scattered, but use any opportunity you can to bring people together. 

Simply put, business leaders and managers have an opportunity to reset their meeting culture right now. Create a more collaborative and supportive space and reap the benefits in employee engagement and retention.