Meeting Discussion

Linked – Research: Asynchronous Work Can Fuel Creativity

This is an important reminder –

Studies show that women and people from marginalized communities are given fewer opportunities to speak and are criticized more harshly when they do in a range of synchronous work settings. Consequently, synchronous teams may inhibit women and marginalized people’s expression of new or risky ideas, ultimately making teams less equal and their output less creative.

Have you ever been in a brainstorming meeting, in person or on Zoom, and walked away thinking it was great? The ideas were flowing, and people were expanding on each other’s ideas, professionally disagreeing constructively, and bringing energy to the discussion. It was great, all of our meetings should look like that.

Except that’s not really what happened. At least it’s not the whole picture. Yes, perhaps there was a good exchange of ideas, and perhaps some of the folks on the call brought their energy and passion to the discussion. The key word there is “some”. The important thing to remember is that those people who did bring that energy also probably made it really difficult for other voices to be heard. The science would tell you that the straight white men on the team probably spoke up, while others did not speak up. (In the experiment that is detailed in the article, it was men and women singers who were compared.) In my experience, it’s a little more complicated than that. Yes, a small group of white guys can absolutely drown out all of the other voices, but so can a small group of extroverts.

There are two things you should be thinking about during these kinds of discussions. One, who isn’t speaking? On every team I’ve worked with, there are always a couple of people who don’t speak in a meeting that includes more than a handful of people. They aren’t comfortable speaking up in front of that many people, or they can’t seem to find the proper way to get a word in edgewise when they do have something to say. I’ve also met with some of those same people individually and heard some great ideas that never got shared with the group.

The second thing to be thinking about is with that group of people who do speak up. How many of them are forcing themselves into actions that don’t fit their best work? This one is a bit confusing so I’ll use myself as an example. I’m an introvert. I work better when I can quietly think about something before responding. Brainstorming or working in a group doesn’t bring out my best, but I also know that if I don’t speak up and act like the others in the group, my input will never be heard. So I speak up, even if my thoughts are less than my best because they have to be immediate reactions instead of more thoughtful reactions. And, even if doing so sometimes makes me feel like I’m being a jerk. (Not that I am being a jerk, but I am acting against my natural tendency to think deeply before I speak, and i likely have to butt my way into the conversation, which I don’t like, but it’s how those conversations go at work.)

I would much rather work in an asynchronous way where I can think through my ideas before sharing them. It’s more natural for me and doesn’t require everyone to act like an extrovert just to contribute.

There are things you can do to make this work, it just requires some forethought. Send the agenda well ahead of time to give people time to think about it before the meeting. Run the meeting in a way that not only encourages, but invites everyone’s opinion, and provide a place for everyone to share their input after the meeting. It’s not like we don’t have the collaboration tools at our disposal to do these things. They exist. You can include all of the voices on your team, and you might just get better ideas out of it.

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