Inclusion is the process at the start of a meeting that should result in everyone feeling like a valued member of the group. The closest that most groups get to this is a quick round of names and job functions. This is not only insufficient, it only make sense for people who do not yet know each other. Inclusion, on the other hand, is needed every time people meet The Human Element, Schutz.

Here are three questions that encourage inclusion. Going round the table, invite each person to say (1) one thing that they remember from last time (answers range from profound to hilarious), (2) what’s new with them and (3) any specific expectations they have for the meeting?. There is no obligation to answer all three questions and they can be worded in many ways. Note that they cover (1) the last meeting, (2) what has happened since and (3) what happens now.

If someone is new to the group, or the meeting is bringing people together for the first time, then the first question is simply replaced with an introduction.

The question “what’s new?” allows people to share a little context. It can yield data of incredible value, both for the person leading the meeting and other participants. If Charlie did his best ever time in a marathon this weekend, he is likely to be on better form than Oumaima who has just heard that her office is closing and that she will have to relocate.

It may not be necessary to check expectations if, for example, this point was covered during the pre-meeting email exchange. Since I will also be checking that everyone agrees on the Purpose, Agenda and Goals for the meeting (see the PAGE tool), I will sometimes skip this and move on to roles.

If possible, the roles of leader, timekeeper, process manager and scribe (recorder/secretary) should be separated. Too often, these functions are all assumed by the leader who can only possibly do one or two of them adequately.

The role of process manager may need explaining. It involves managing the sub-processes in the meeting, such as discussions, brainstorms and presentations. For example, we might agree that, to collect ideas for XYZ, nobody is allowed to make any comments until everyone has spoken. This will ensure that everyone is able to contribute. An alternative process is to pass an object round - a ball, a plastic giraffe .. anything! - and that only the person with the object is allowed to speak. It is the role of the process manager to ensure that such mini-procedures are agreed and respected. OKness is the principle of checking that everyone is still included and reasonably comfortable (though not necessarily in 100% agreement) before closing any topic (as represented by a meeting agenda point, for example).

The benefits of regularly checking OKness during a meeting are similar to those of the inclusion process at its start: valuable feedback and effective participation. For example, going around the table asking each person to say if he or she is “green”, “amber” or “red” quickly tells me if a break is in order. Asking for a rating on a 1-10 scale or an adjective to describe their state also works. But avoid the question “Are you Ok?”, since we are socially programmed to respond positively to this stimulus, even when under extreme PowerPoint torture.

Unfortunately, inclusion, roles and OKness are not a part of the culture of most engineering organisations. I suspect that this is because the concepts are not widely known, and also because there is a perception that they take too much time. However, the cost of having people waste their time in meetings, or feeling that they are wasting their time, must surely be huge!

In any case, the processes need not be time-consuming, and the extra effort pays off handsomely. Together with PAGE and a lifetime of practice, they are all that is needed to run a perfect meeting in the field!

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