So, How Do We Make Meetings Count?

A few weeks ago, Tania Fowler of Interplay Coaching, gave YP's a lesson in making meetings more productive and less frustrating. In addition to her great insight and expertise, we were able to ask her a few of our members' burning questions. Keep reading for a deeper dive into how you can make your meetings count.

Male vs. female communication in a meeting: Is there a difference?  How can we effectively engage both?

Tania Fowler: There shouldn’t be a difference but there is! This is an interesting question because the question implies that the meeting facilitator is interested in hearing from both groups on an equal footing which would be great in a perfect world. So, in the hands of this facilitator perhaps both groups would be seen as viable equals. Often, though, this is not the case.

Society and culture place complicated weights around the ankles of how we perceive each other in the workplace. Most common expectations of men in the workplace are that they complete their work by doing what needs to get done, even if that requires a lone pursuit. They can be assertive, even aggressive in that pursuit. Women who “lean in” in regular positions on committees and in companies are still seen as “aggressive” when they are being assertive. They are expected to be more nurturing and less assertive so when they show up assertively they are often seen as too pushy.

To interrupt this pattern what I recommend is that a facilitator of a meeting set the tone that ALL voices in the room are important and that they want to hear from everyone. So, to make that happen there need to be some co-created norms on how people work together. For example:


  • We don’t interrupt
  • We don’t dismiss people’s ideas or contributions
  • We value each other’s input by demonstrating respectful listening
  • We ask good questions that follow people’s thinking
  • We keep conflict ideological rather than personal
  • When off topic we ask, “what’s the problem we’re trying to solve?”
  • We stay off technology until breaks


The facilitator does not create the norms but rather asks the team to come up with what would best serve the team. The above norms are a good start.

I also suggest that the leader of meetings notice the patterns of how dialog happens in meetings. If it appears that some people take over and others can’t get a word in then the leader must interrupt that pattern by calling on people in an order that is not the typical pattern. Make sure that women have the opportunity to contribute and that if they are being assertive they be allowed to continue in that vein. Call on them early in the meeting to make sure that they contribute while energy is high and fresh, not waiting until the end when attention is flagging because people want to leave.

Can you expand on the personality types and what methods work best for each to engage and communicate most effectively(stabilizers, theorists, catalysts, etc.)? 

TF:This is information I provide in one and two-day trainings and so it would be very difficult to give such information in a short answer. But my short and general piece of advice is to remember that we all come to work with specific personalities born of our own natural preferences in combination with the environments we grow up in. We tend to think in “Be Like Me” biases when listening to others. Much like, “if you could only look at this situation the way I do and then do what I do it would all go smoothly.” We all do this – it’s everywhere. It helps to try to lower that bias as much as possible and instead approach another person with curiosity about what it is they are trying to offer or say. What are they bringing to the table. Most people have valid viewpoints. Ask more questions to engage people and find out what they are.

What is the best tactic to combat phones and laptops during meetings?

TF:Make it a meeting norm (rule) that technological devices of all types are not to be used during meetings and that folks can wait until breaks. I facilitate this in meetings and people comply readily and no one has died!

Can you list or give reference to examples of effective Norms during a meeting?

TF: Norms should be co-created by the facilitator and attendees in a meeting. If the group meets routinely then the norms should be hung in every meeting to ensure that people stick with them. Regardless, norms should always be posted whether for one meeting or many. Someone should take ownership of making sure people are following their own norms. I find that this tactic works beautifully in getting people to deeper discussions without worrying about the meeting devolving into something other than what was intended. The categories I use with teams in creating norms are these:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Respect
  4. Listening
  5. Attitude
  6. Technology

Should agenda items be timed? If so, how do we keep within this framework?

TF: It depends on the purpose of the meeting. If the meeting is to update a committee on an upcoming event or project with a looming deadline, then timed agendas would be fine to keep people on task. If the purpose of a meeting is to kick off an initiative that includes brainstorming then enough time needs to be allocated for people to deep dive a discussion about outcomes and what they want to achieve. Other meetings might need to be strategy focused and then you want to understand what is most important to every person at the table in terms of executing the strategy. In this case, perhaps choose to have NO set agenda and instead create one in real time using a lightning round. These kinds of real-time agendas tend to generate high engagement because the agenda items actually matter to all who have had input.

Should each individual walk away with an action item or should work be distributed according to expertise and talent?

TF: The question implies an either/or way of distributing work. Yes, people should able to contribute in areas of their expertise and talent and, sometimes it’s great to take on another person’s role to develop capabilities in different areas or to understand what other people on the team deal with in their roles. It depends on what you are trying to solve and accomplish.

But yes, it would be best for people to come away with action items. The point of meetings should be to keep a team or group of people engaged in what they are trying to achieve, aligning with their purpose in an organization. Meetings should be much more interesting and productive than they are. People are slammed with so many demands and fewer and fewer resources so often meetings can feel like a big waste of time. People check out before they’ve even checked in. Leaders need to work a bit harder to make meetings count by creating outcomes that have people leaving with action items and high engagement.

Special thanks to Tania Fowler, and to our membership for being so engaged! Look out for the next opportunity to take your skillset to the #NextLevel with EDGEx on August 8th at 12pm where we'll be talking about managing difficult interactions with Tina Shaw.