“I was recently put in charge of a team of 13 people, with the goal of finding new ways to appeal to diverse consumer markets, including people ages 18 to 30 and different ethnic groups. Everyone on this “cross-functional” team was picked because they excel in their various areas, so I know they each have a lot to contribute. The trouble is that, at every meeting we’ve had so far, a few very confident team members always seem to suck up all the oxygen in the room, while others rarely utter a peep. One is very young, so I think she’s intimidated by the more experienced people who do most of the talking. A couple of others, for whom English is a second language, are even quieter. Any suggestions about how to encourage them to speak up in meeting?”
Why your team won’t speak up in meetings
Sound familiar? No doubt, plenty of other team leaders are wondering, too. Since roughly half the population is made up of introverts, who tend to mull things over carefully before they open their mouths, most teams include at least one or two members who don’t say much. On diverse teams, when people come from cultures where offering ideas or opinions isn’t encouraged, the challenges are multiplied.
First, you may have to redefine what you mean by “speaking up,” because the phrase may strike some of your team members as uncomfortably assertive. Team leaders need to clarify what they want, which is usually not to have everyone talking all the time. Be sure to explain clearly, especially to a culturally diverse team, that your goal is to gather ideas from everyone. Remind them of it regularly.
How to make sure everyone in your team has a voice
These tips will ensure that you get everyone’s thoughts and opinions, even if some team members don’t like to voice their ideas in a public forum.
- Make it a homework assignment. Ask each person to write down his or her ideas on a given topic in advance. Then ask them to bring their written thoughts to the meeting for a systematic discussion where everyone at the table gets a turn. This allows the less vocal members of the group to have their ideas considered alongside those of the people who’ve been quicker to speak.
- Gather everyone’s ideas and write up a formal agenda. This approach takes a bit more effort on your part as the team leader, but it works. Ask everyone to send you his or her thoughts via email or text. Once you have each person’s contribution in hand, you can decide how to order the discussion, and send out a full agenda far enough ahead of time so that everyone has chance to think about everyone else’s ideas. Consider making all suggestions anonymous, so no one is swayed (pro or con) by whose idea it was.
- Make a few phone calls before the group meets. You already know who “sucks up all the oxygen in the room,” as you put it, and who’s been trying to fade into the wallpaper. Have a brief, private chat with each of them. Thank the most vocal people for their enthusiasm, which you genuinely do appreciate (right?). But, since you’re concerned with making sure everyone’s ideas are heard, could they do you a favor at the next meeting and wait until you call on them before they speak? As for the quiet ones, let them know you’re looking forward to hearing what they think.
It’s no coincidence that each of these methods involves making your expectations clear before the whole team gets together. Not only does advance warning reduce the anxiety of participants who don’t like to be put on the spot, but all team members are likely to have better input if they spend some time thinking about it beforehand.
That may be especially true for your team members whose first language isn’t English. Even if someone is very fluent, the person might be mentally translating what’s being said into his or her native tongue, and then back into English again, before offering a comment. It takes a little longer, which often means the discussion has moved on to a new topic before that person gets a chance to speak.
This is one reason why, when it comes to gathering ideas from team members who bring with them very different personalities and backgrounds, meetings are overrated. If you haven’t already done so, encourage people to share their ideas with you one-on-one. You can say something like, ‘I’d like to hear back from everyone by the end of this week. You can either offer your input at our meeting this afternoon, or talk with me afterwards, or send me an e-mail.’ You might be pleasantly surprised at who suddenly has a lot to say.
Significantly increase your company’s global effectiveness
As a comparison instrument it allows users and corporate account owners to compare culture profiles and tendencies with countries, teams and colleagues and receive instant guidance on how to collaborate more effectively. Country Navigator supports clients in building cultural intelligence; from induction through to executive and high potential development. Country Navigator ensures all global leaders are well prepared and effective when managing diverse teams. The system follows a well-proven methodology which focuses on operational realities and practical application, enabling learners to transfer new skills and knowledge to their workplace.
Benefits for your organization
- You will achieve greater levels of collaboration, cohesion, and integration across teams and functions.
- Country Navigator allows you to utilize existing technology and devices for inquisitive, mobile, and increasingly virtual workforces.
- Realize significant cost savings over traditional training methods.
- Enhance live, in-person classroom training and coaching programs with self-paced online learning modules.
- You will be able to educate and inform employees at all levels and locations throughout the organization.
- You can be more responsive in pursuing growth opportunities and managing risk.
Country Navigator is multi-lingual and multi-use
The cultural assessment tool and feedback information is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.
In addition to its assessment capabilities the Country Navigator tool offers e-learning paths and online country briefings for global leaders. Users access structured country learning paths. Information includes local cultural tendencies, profile comparisons and key strategies on how to manage cultural differences.
- Country guides: Access in-depth information and expert advice for all key international business destinations, with insider tips to build relationships and secure deals around the globe.
- Country briefings: Learners go through a six-step structured overview of a country. A video quickly gets them up to speed on the local working styles. A gap analysis between the learner and the target country focuses the learner onto the key strategies that they need adopt to manage any cultural differences.
- Blended learning: Access structured learning to guide and develop increased cultural awareness to build more fruitful international relationships.
- Learning on-demand: Access a wide range of integrated learning tools, resources and courses from within the Country Navigator tool, on your desktop, online or via your mobile device.
- Validated profiles: Culture assessments are based on insights and data compiled by over 250 culture experts covering 126 countries worldwide. A dynamic dashboard reacts to the learner’s usage and guides them to the relevant information. After the learner has completed the cultural profile assessment, the system will generate the learner’s cultural tendencies and provide them with clear guidance on recognizing differences in others and adapting for success. Learners can compare themselves to country profiles and receive detailed guidance on how best deal with any differences. They can also compare their own profile with their colleagues or counterparts and receive instant feedback on how to work better together.
The latest release of Country Navigator provides:
- Essential tips and in-depth online guidance on how to do business in over 100 countries
- Personal Assessment – identify your dominant cultural orientations and how they impact your global working style
- Comparison Tools – compare your profile with colleagues and receive personalized feedback
- Flight Packs – a downloadable collection of country resources and information