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  • Writer's pictureRobin Rosenberg

Who’s Invited to the Meeting?

With many organizations’ teams working from home, most of us are getting—or have gotten—tired of meetings via video-conference.

Among the best practices written for people who lead meetings are:

  • create an agenda in advance, and let people know if/whether there are items that attendees should think about or do before the meeting,

  • send the agenda around well before the meeting, with the expectation that people will read it and put thought into items they are invited to think about before the meeting,

  • in creating the agenda, think about who should be at each meeting.

Let’s dive deeper into this last item. On one hand, being invited to attend meetings can facilitate a sense of “teamness” and bonding for those who are present (whether meetings are virtual or face-to-face). Through hearing about others’ work, meetings can be a way to help attendees see the larger meaning of their individual work, such as how it fits with the team’s and organization’s mission and goals. As attendees share different experiences and perspectives, they bring new ideas and solutions to the surface. Thus, the composition of the attendees—their training, organizational unit, level of responsibility and their demographic identity—all affect the ideas and solutions that come out of the meeting.

It can be helpful to spend a bit of time thinking about who is asked to attend a given meeting or set of meetings. The “invitations” send a message to all invitees, and to the people not invited (“why wasn’t I invited?” or “yay, one less meeting to attend”). It’s also useful to think about who isn’t on your to-be-invited list but perhaps should be. Do the people on your list represent a diverse group, bringing unique perspectives and experiences to the group? Are they all one race or ethnic group, all one gender, all have the same training, all have a similar history with the organization. Could these similarities restrict the range of ideas and inadvertently communicate exclusion rather than inclusion?

Then there’s the larger question of how inclusive and respectful these meetings are. Is the team’s or organization’s culture such that individuals with opinions different than that of the majority are really heard and respected when they speak? Are multiple viewpoints actively solicited? Of course, brainstorming, tossing around ideas, troubleshooting, or identifying potential problems are only part of what happens at meetings, but it can be helpful to think about the attendee list with the goal of multiple viewpoints.

On the other hand, we all know how tedious it can be to attend a meeting simply because it’s on our schedule, especially when we’re not directly contributing. In many situations, larger meetings are less productive. Moreover, whatever nugget(s) of useful information we learn during the meeting may not feel worth the time we spend in the meeting—even if we’re only half-listening and doing email or work at the same time. (More on this issue in another post.)

The flipside of thinking about who to ask to a meeting is that those asked should understand:

  • why they were invited to the meeting,

  • how they can contribute, and

  • what is expected of them (e.g., reporting progress on a project, presenting new information, listening to the status of others on an interconnected team project).

That is, attendees should know why they’re there, what they’re supposed to share, or what they’re supposed to listen for when others speak. Ditto for those not asked, who think they should have been or worry what a lack of invitation means. Transparency about the process helps people understand and appreciate the respect for their time.

Of course, setting up individuals—and meetings—for success like this can require upfront work to create the agenda, the attendee list, and communicating each person’s role for the meeting. But doing so pays off: it makes meetings more useful for all attendees, encourages full engagement in meetings, and communicates respect for everyone’s time and perspectives.

Our training program, which includes a virtual reality module that doesn’t require a virtual reality headset, helps organizations foster a respectful and inclusive workplace.


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