Did you hear that pin drop? Seconds before, a leader stood in front of their team and asked the question: “Here is our goal, any questions?” After a number of moments of awkward silence, that one person whom always speaks bravely blurts out a response.

Silence returns. If this sounds like meetings you have been to before, you are not alone. If, as a leader, you find your team is more quiet than chatty in meetings, it’s important to really consider what is being missed based on the future you are trying to create.

If you were a fly on your meeting room wall, what would you see? Would the fly see different behaviours in a room where people are comfortable chatting? How is lack of chit-chat either enabling or disabling success?

The Future:

Canada may be positioning itself as a resourceful country enabled by diverse people, innovation and a strong education foundation; however, the Canadian dollar is declining, commodity pricing is low and there is an economic lull in Western Canada. It’s time to really crank up diverse thinking with our diverse employee demographic in order to figure out what is missing and how we remain competitive globally.

The Reality:

I have walked in the lunch room of many highly diverse companies and generally see a divide of people based on similar personalities, ethnic origin or mixed groups that ‘get along’.

This isn’t likely confined to the lunch room. People like to be with those they hang out and that is absolutely fine. But it is not fine in meetings when generally the goal is to harness diverse perspectives so that teams can move to a newly created and desired future state.

If team strengths, weaknesses, gaps and new ideas are not brought to the forefront, success of these goals may be severely constricted.

The Opportunity:

We know everyone has an opinion and that traditional leadership is overtly results driven not necessarily out to solicit feedback as it risks interference, which may be perceived as potentially risking progress.

That ‘driver’ leadership style is needed but it can also get in the way. For example, if you have a group of highly ‘amiable’ people where relationship comes first, they may be less likely to express opinions openly and in fact, may be fearful to do so.

Driver and amiable styles can clash — leaders who are very task oriented can unwittingly disengage amiable personality types.

Leaders that do encourage / have chatty meetings are likely to have stronger teams. Regardless of styles, personalities, diversity and other “reasons” that employees may not be speaking up, I suggest trying these tips to help to make your meeting room a productive ‘chat room’, which can ultimately help to optimize your team:

1) Have someone else run the meeting: A fresh face at the front not only creates a new energy and excitement; it also empowers people in your team to step-up and take on leadership.

2) Group work: Collective voices have more power. Put people into smaller groups of 3-4 and have them work together in discussing answers to your questions. Have someone scribe and present the group findings. Amiable people care about others and may not share individually, but will if their voice is not singled out.

3) Don’t assume: Too often leaders think that everything is fine. When a third party steps in to ask, it quickly comes to the surface that it’s not. Silence is does not necessarily mean everything is golden. Silence can also mean that there may be a lack of trust or conflict in your team.

4) Ask for opinions: Direction is great but over-direction is crippling. People need to weigh in to buy in. Facilitate meetings where people are challenged to come up with issues, innovative ideas and ways to improve team performance.

5) Slow down: Some people need extra time to think, especially those that are very analytical and information based. Provide meeting discussion points in advance so that people have the opportunity to know what is expected and how to best prepare.

6) Encourage creativity: In most teams there are limited or no expressive personalities – the ‘idea and optimism’ people. Being conscious of that means as leaders we need to find ways to elicit creativity and out-of-the box thinking through intentional exercises.

Kwela’s Team Optimization workshop is one that transforms teams into a new way of being that increases trust, healthy conflict, innovation and performance. It can be an effective catalyst for change if your team needs improvement, and help provide a solid foundation as you drive forward to create your high performing team.

Those leaders that can interrupt cultural norms, personality types or camaraderie, in a safe and productive way are likely to build the resourcefulness that Canada is known for and propel us into a stronger future.

Team meetings that encourage chatty dialogue increase team performance and innovation. Can pins be heard in any of your meetings?

Glen Sollors
Senior Consultant, Kwela Leadership