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Share the voice: why it is crucial during meetings and how to do it

13th September, 2021   •   5 min

Do you share the voice during team meetings?

Consider the below image. The rectangle represents knowledge and experience. The circle represents one person. This is their perspective on a problem.

Now consider the below. This is a team of people with diverse perspectives on a problem.

Now pause and take a moment to answer this question: which do you think is more likely to come up with the best solution – the individual or the group?

Research shows that a group of diverse perspectives, if each has the opportunity to be heard, are significantly more likely to come up with a better solution. Why? As you may have reasoned yourself, the group covers a larger surface area of knowledge and experience, so are more likely to come up with a useful idea or solution between them when they share the voice during discussions. This is called cognitive diversity.

Matthew Syed in Rebel Ideas underlines how crucial it is to use cognitive diversity to solve a problem. The reason for this is simple – many perspectives coming together and discussing, challenging, building on each other are better than one.

One of the easiest ways to harness cognitive diversity is by holding a meeting. We gather everyone together, we start problem solving and between them endeavor to find the best answer on a particular problem, challenge, new idea. Makes sense, doesn’t it.

Usually, if things go well, we reach a solution in this meeting. However, is it the best solution? Despite our best intentions, it may not be. Our traditional approach to meetings can prevent all the ideas from being heard and the best solution from being found.

One of the reasons for this is that there is not a true share of voice. Research has shown that if we hold a meeting with six individuals, three of them make up 70% of the conversation. This is clearly problematic. We have held a meeting to find the best answers together as a group. Our intention, to benefit from cognitive diversity, is to hear from everyone. Perhaps without even realising, we have heard from only half.

So we are only benefitting from half of the ideas. The three others in the group – with their own ideas, thoughts, questions, concerns – are not sharing.

And who is to say that the people sharing are not influencing the thoughts and ideas of others before they come out, resulting in groupthink?

Despite these obstacles, meetings are valuable for discussing ideas only IF we approach them with the intent to have equal share of voice.

We might think we are doing enough by opening up the floor for comments and suggestions. In reality, this is rarely enough.

The best ideas and solutions are found if we combine cognitive diversity with the intent for equal share of the voice. Some of the most successful teams in the world work hard towards this goal. For example, Google found in their extensive study, Project Aristotle, that having an equal share of voice in a team is one of crucial pillars of success.

So what can we do to share the voice more during meetings?

Like all social situations, there are multiple factors to consider. People may hold back due to being constantly interrupted, a lack of trust or a self-perceived lack of hierarchy, confidence, knowledge or status. Achieving true share of voice is multi-layered and of course contextual to each team.

That being said, there are some simple things we can try straight away to create more opportunities for ideas to surface. As we all know, not everyone likes to share their ideas in the same way.

Here are some ideas to encourage a more equal share of voice in your next meeting:

1. Give the team thinking time

A simple and powerful way to encourage people to share the voice is to give the whole group an opportunity to think before discussing the meeting topic. We each have different behavioural styles, some of us are confident to share our thoughts around a topic immediately whereas others prefer time to think before they share.

This approach is fruitful as it provides a better opportunity for every style to share and very often results in superior ideas being brought to the meeting – whatever the style.

How to put ‘thinking time’ into action:

  • Before asking thoughts on a topic, give two minutes for people to write down their ideas
  • Send the meeting agenda beforehand, with any discussion points highlighted
  • If reviewing a document during the meeting, send it to the group beforehand

2. Use anonymous idea sharing tools

Many of us may not share the voice or our ideas in meetings because of a perceived lack of social status, hierarchy or confidence. You can probably relate to a time when you thought you were onto something, and at the same time worried that it could go down like a lead balloon. What if there was an option to share this idea, risk free? You could get it out there, without having to take the social risk of being associated with it. Would you share it? Very likely. And perhaps it is the very idea that leads to solving the problem.

Giving the team an option to share anonymous ideas is an excellent method for sharing the voice. Not only does this mean that more ideas are shared, the possibilities for innovative and creative solutions to surface is considerably higher. Luckily, there are a plethora of online tools at our fingertips that help us gather anonymous insight.

Some platforms to consider:

  • Mentimeter – you can share a stream of ideas and create word clouds to capture them
  • Slido – gather insight from the whole group on particular questions
  • Mural – interactive whiteboard where everyone can get involved

3. Use ‘golden silence

‘Golden silence’ is a 30 minute period at the beginning of the meeting where everyone considers a carefully constructed document. This document outlines the main agenda item of the meeting. This is reviewed in complete silence before anyone can share any ideas.

The benefit? Each person takes time to truly understand the discussion before sharing. It also gives crucial thinking time.

Whether you take 30 minutes or ten during your team meetings, this group reflection time will result in a more equal share of quality contributions.

4. Rotate the chair

Leaders can end up doing a lot of the talking in meetings – often because they chair them. This affects the share of voice. Due to their social status in the group – being further up the social hierarchy – the team are more likely to lean towards agreeing with them.

Rotating the chair of the meeting is an excellent way to overcome this problem. The leader can deliberately take on the role of the listener. Alternatively, we can give different team members sections of the meeting to run. By doing this, we have planned to share the voice from the start.

By understanding the importance of hearing from everyone, we can find the best answers and solutions as a team and fully benefit from diversity of thought. Please get in touch with the team at Higson if you are interested in talking further about how to share the voice at work and run inclusive team meetings.