Jehad Affoneh, VMWare design chief, knows what it feels like to be unique in a meeting room. As a Palestinian who lives in Palo Alto, he rarely meets someone at work since his inception.
That alienation is something that can significantly affect the work of someone, of anyone.
Farai Madzima, a user experience designer in Shopify who grew up in Zimbabwe and now works in Canada, described that feeling in his talk entitled The Only One of Your Kind in the Room, presented at the Design Conference:
Designing inclusive meetings
As a team leader, Jehad works to find ways to attract those who feel isolated to the group, not only to promote inclusion but also to help retain the best talents.
Meetings are the basis of isolation experiences. Minority voices can be repressed or marginalized by the majority without a defender or process to make room for them to be heard. Jehad has created a simple way to change the dynamics of meetings so that everyone's perspective can be shared.
Before each meeting, Jehad creates a detailed agenda document that provides context for discussion, objectives and shared assumptions of the group. This includes:
General description and context: this is where I would share the context on the theme of the meeting, which could include an executive summary and important details depending on the topic.
Assumptions: This is not always included, but if you are making a decision and do not have all the information, it is better to talk about the assumptions so that people can offer corrections and greater transparency around the data being discussed.
Questions and next steps: include a list of questions you have for the team and the next steps to follow after the meeting.
After creating this document, Jehad shares it with everyone invited to the meeting and requests comments, corrections and additions.
This pre-meeting planning creates an opportunity for everyone to share discrepant views that they might otherwise suppress in a room full of peers, especially if they are the only ones in their class represented. Introverts who do not feel comfortable speaking in groups can also benefit from this approach, allowing them to share their comments without forcing them to speak in front of a group.
The document gives Jehad a guide to lead the meeting. It shows the voice of who needs to be heard, even if they are reluctant to speak. It helps you use your leadership position to advocate for those who would otherwise feel excluded from the discussion.
There is an additional advantage in this approach: meetings become more productive! Being clear about what will be discussed and capturing your team's perspectives in advance will make meetings shorter, more focused and valuable.
For tips on how to make meetings more effective, see Kevin Hoffman's fantastic Meeting Design book.