I Could Scream–Exclusive Meetings Again!

I Could Scream–Exclusive Meetings Again!

I could scream. Once again, I attended a meeting whose leadership professed full devotion to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the meeting design was anything but. Sound familiar? In a meeting dedicated to learning about ageism and respect for all people, especially older adults, few spoke. Of those who did 90% were white, 75% were male and, despite the presence of older adults, the younger spoke far more frequently than seniors.

An expert panel gave mini-speeches followed by Q & A. In a group of fifty, maybe ten people not on the panel boldly asked questions and sometimes inserted a mini-speech. The rest of the unwashed remained silent. For two hours the vast majority sat. Our thoughts were kept to ourselves, our ideas ignored, our participation purely passive. When the meeting ended, conversation erupted. In two and threes, the content of the seminar was reviewed, insights shared, experience related. The cacophony of chatter compared to the relative quiet of the meeting, itself, was amazing! What if the meeting design captured the after meeting chatter?

So many meetings are frustrating, boring, and unproductive because they rely on the same meeting formats: lecture, presentation, open discussion, and the like. These formats are rarely inclusive. The culturally dominant—typically Caucasians, males, extroverts, and persons in positions of authority—grab attention. Leaders voice the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion but do not embody it in the way the meeting is designed and conducted.

But wait. There is hope. Meeting designs that embody the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion do exist. Meeting formats that engage every voice are simple to learn and practice. In a crowd of fifty (or any size), try using the One-Two-Four-All format described in the book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

Here’s how it works: The facilitator poses a creative question on an issue of concern to the group. For example, “How has ageism personally affected my life?”  Individuals take one minute to list ideas on a piece of paper. Then, in pairs, each person quickly shares his or her ideas (two minutes).  They notice similarities, differences, and patterns in their shared experiences. Next, pairs combine into groups of four to share, compare, and coalesce ideas in four minutes.  The final stage is a plenary session:  the “All” in 1-2-4-All. Each group of four shares one key idea with the whole group, popcorn style, avoiding duplication. The results are recorded for all to see on large post-it notes or a whiteboard.

In the space of 15 minutes the collective experience of everyone in the group is shared. No one is left out. Energy and engagement bust out. Diversity, equity, and inclusion become more than words plastered on a mission statement. They are embodied in the practices and process of the group. Because each person matters and each is given voice, participants are more able to proceed with listening to an “expert.”

I use 1-2-4-All often when facilitating meetings, especially near the beginning. In contrast to lecturing, presentations, and Q & A, which can favor the verbose and aggressive, 1-2-4-All is fundamentally inclusive. Every voice has power. Every voice and perspective gets in on the game. Even the shy or the culturally less dominant share ideas.

For other ways to engage everyone in your meetings, check out my book on Amazon, THRIVE: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings online and wherever books are sold: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1733928103?pf_rd_p=ab873d20-a0ca-439b-ac45-cd78f07a84d8&pf_rd_r=6Z8QKM21XBK8SFN4BY4N.

THRIVE is packed with tips and tools to make your meetings and organization fully inclusive.  You may also visit my website at www.civicreinventions.com. Drop me an email mark.smutny@civicreinventions.com on a meeting issue that plagues you. I will be in touch.

Copyright © 2019 Mark Smutny and Civic Reinventions, Inc.