“No one participates.” This is a common complaint that leaders often have about the meetings they lead. Is this problem happening at your meetings too?

You probably have a good understanding of the word participation, but let’s begin with a dictionary definition anyway. The Oxford dictionary tells us that participation is “the action of taking part in something”.  Interestingly, it gives us no parameters on the how, when, or where of taking part.  This is important because whenever clients raise the lack of participation problem, under it all, they are really saying that few people speak up and actually say anything at a meeting.

In actuality, participation can take several forms. People might be
•    speaking to the entire group
•    speaking to a sub-group of the whole
•    thinking (having been inspired by a question or comment made by someone else at the meeting)
•    brainstorming on paper or on a white board

The dictionary definition doesn`t put any restrictions on the action of participating. We don`t need to restrict our vision of participation either.

A Revised Perspective on Participation

Let’s agree that it doesn’t matter how your attendees participate, only that they do. That leaves it open to many possibilities:

Here are a few examples of the possible parameters for participation during a meeting.

Task: idea generation, updating, problem-solving, decision-making
Group size: individual or groups of 2, 3, or 4
Submission options:  written or oral
time: 10 minutes, 1 hour, a week

Let`s create a few permutations and combinations from these options. For example, an individual can participate by spending five minutes thinking about the solution to a problem and then submitting it orally to the entire group at the meeting. In another situation, you might have a group of three people engaging in a problem-solving discussion for fifteen minutes and then writing up a list of possible solutions on a wall chart. You get it. The possibilities are endless.

When it comes to participation, what leaders truly need from their attendees is input in the form of opinions, analysis, suggestions, questions, etc. Luckily, there are many ways of achieving that goal. In a future blog post, you will learn a little more about orchestrating participation.