In this week’s newsletter, we talk about how the "inclusive" practice of asking everyone to speak up in meetings can have unforeseen consequences, why you should care (ahem... managers and leadership), and what everyone can do about it. And don't miss our podcast episode with Caitlin Hutcherson where we talk more about this.
Consider this experience
I had just started at a company in a different industry and often felt that I was the dumbest person in the room.
I would sit in meetings, and people would continue to ask my opinion, because they value getting an outside view, but I felt like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Over time I learned more about our product and had a little bit more context. But then we started selling to a more technical customer, and once again I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I got to a point where I almost left the company because I didn’t think this was the right role for me. I felt stupid a lot.
It’s easy to write this off as a personal problem. After all, the person who shared the story entertained that thought too. But the two periods where the author felt most uncomfortable (as a new hire and as the company started selling to more technical customers) point to a more systemic training failure that happens at companies all the time. A pattern that's likely to repeat itself in the future (and with other people). For whatever reason, the right information wasn’t available up front, and that's bad for business. If your employees aren't confident or don't deeply understand the products they work on, how can they be effective? And why would they stick around? That's less revenue and more turnover.
If you're thinking forced participation sounds like a good way to discover knowledge gaps, in this case it didn't sound any alarms.
Since this is a pretty common problem, let's focus on what a single person can actually do here.
People in the room
Be inclusive by providing more context by default. You'll boost productivity at the same time.
An easy way to do this is to define basic terms and assumptions up front. This is particularly useful for cross-functional teams. Customer success managers and engineers probably have completely different functional vocabularies. DAU what? Anna and Caitlin talk about creating a dictionary for terms and acronyms in this week’s podcast episode. What meeting processes are default at your company? What could be made more clear before your meetings?
On the hot seat? 🔥
Your perspective is valuable, even if you don’t believe that.
Make a point to be the outsider with that outside perspective until you’re comfortable. Offer that insight. Let them know what doesn’t make sense or isn’t obvious to the outsider. These types of conversations are invaluable to businesses.
Then work behind the scenes to get other participants to start a shared doc with you for meeting assumptions:
Hey Anna, I started a wiki page to define the terms and assumptions that come up in our meetings to make sure everyone’s on the same page. This should be useful to new people that join too. What do you think we’re missing?
Once other people start contributing, share and reference the document in future meetings to keep it alive. Encourage others to make updates when needed.
Seemingly small things like this can make a big difference at work. 🎧 For more, check out this week’s podcast episode with Caitlin Hutcherson. And special thanks to the subscriber who shared this story!