How To Structure Virtual Team Meetings For Inclusion And Equity

Diversity Best Practices For Virtual Interactions
Summary: Engaged employees contribute more, are healthier, more satisfied, and less likely to turnover. But increasing engagement through inclusion and equity in team meetings requires more than good intentions—it requires good design. Luckily that’s something L&D professionals know about.

Diversity Best Practices For Virtual Interactions

L&D professionals think about structure and skill-building when we design anything from whole learning programs down to individual learning interactions. But we start by defining objectives. The objectives for a team meeting dictate who to invite, the sequence and types of activities, and what success looks like. When a routine objective such as problem-solving is joined by an objective to increase inclusion and equity, it’s plain that most teams need to redesign their interactions. This is a chance to transform old practices with increased energy and engagement.

For greater inclusion and equity, I invite you to apply your structural thinking to virtual team interactions in 4 key areas:

  1. Time Allocation
  2. Roles
  3. Activities
  4. Mini-Scripts For Emotionally Risky Interactions

1. Allocate Time With Equity In Mind

How you spend your time and your team’s time is a strong indicator of your true values and priorities. If a topic, challenge, practice—or person—gets little time or attention, everyone on the team will come to believe that thing or person is not important.

During your meetings, how is time allocated to different people? Who is scheduled to speak? Who gets to ask questions? Who is asked for their ideas and input? Who is welcome to speak without explicit invitation?

For a specific topic or objective, team members with deeper expertise will naturally get more time. However, no team member should always get more time than others.

Some ways to increase engagement and get everyone’s voice in the room:

  • Create a team practice where everyone speaks once before anyone speaks twice.
  • When you want to gauge team reaction or status, use a brief structured check-in to include everyone. Examples are giving each person 30-60 seconds to speak when a topic is introduced, 1-word check-ins (e.g., how are people feeling about impactful information that was just shared?), and thumb polls to determine if the team is ready to wrap up a topic (yes/no/need more).

Tip: For large groups, you can employ group chat for check-ins.

  • Use a timekeeper to help keep every individual from running over their allocated time.

Tip: Frame timekeeping positively as a way to help make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, rather than as a negative or policing role.

  • Midway through discussion of a topic, make room for new people to speak. To avoid putting shy individuals on the spot, consider a general invitation such as, “I’d like to invite anyone who hasn’t spoken yet to do so now.”
  • Do task work (e.g., analyzing, planning, brainstorming) in breakout rooms with 3-5 people each, then have each breakout pod report back to the main group. This creates more space for everyone to participate in a more intimate setting and also boosts productivity.

2. Distribute Authority With Rotating Roles

Another way to get more voices in the room is to vest authority in different roles and rotate those roles among meeting attendees. Particularly in large groups, this can be powerful. When someone assumes a role, they are charged to act in ways they otherwise might not feel comfortable doing, and other team members typically accept their actions in that role.

Some roles to consider:

  • Facilitator: Set objectives, give instructions, guide participants to stay on topic and on time, manage agenda changes (e.g., adding time, deferring topics, adding topics).
  • Topic owner/presenter(s): If someone has a deeper interest or knowledge in a particular topic, they may be designated to present it or to serve as an expert others can consult.
  • Timekeeper: Set a timer as designated for a topic or speaker. Alert the team or speaker as needed.
  • Challenger: Ask questions to challenge a proposed plan or approach, and especially to challenge underlying assumptions.
  • Meta Commentator: What team dynamics are in play (e.g., only operations people are speaking now and the admin and sales staff have gone silent)? What’s not being addressed (elephants in the room or overlooked aspects of the topic)?
  • Scribe: Record ideas, decisions, questions, action items—whatever will serve the team. Capturing and recapping specific wording can help the team clarify what they really meant or want to happen. Having a summary of key elements after a meeting can be useful to refer back to and for accountability.

Not all these roles are needed in all meetings. However, using them when needed brings new perspectives to your interactions.

3. Use Structured Activities

By structured activities, I mean a set of instructions for participants to follow with roles and sequenced time-limited steps. For example, a wrap-up activity where each participant shares one standout insight they’re taking away from the meeting in 3 sentences or less. Structured activities can be used to check-in, explore a topic, get to know each other, build skills such as attunement, listening, empathy, giving feedback, and boundary setting, and much more. You can find out more about using structured activities for team connection and skill-building here. Structured activities offer several benefits:

  • They provide focus and time boundaries, the basis for accountability;
  • They invite everyone to participate equally;
  • They pack a lot of engagement into a relatively short amount of time;
  • They tend to solicit input that otherwise would not have surfaced;
  • They build skills and habits for better communication, flexibility, and adaptability; and,
  • Small-time investments can provide big behavioral shifts over time.

Their combination of structure, accountability, and space for everyone to speak is powerful.

4. Use Mini-Scripts: Tiny Step-By-Step Procedures For Challenging Interactions

For interactions that feel riskier, just having the opportunity to speak isn’t enough. When people fear social and emotional—and sometimes professional—consequences if an interaction goes poorly, they struggle with what to say and how to say it. Often they choose to remain silent instead.

That’s a real loss for the team because when tricky topics go well, they can break log jams and open new possibilities. Good candidates for mini-scripts include raising an issue, offering and receiving feedback, offering and requesting help, asking consent, saying no constructively, and revealing the impact (positive or negative) of someone’s words or actions.

Mini-scripts provide a template that everyone on the team knows. A well-designed mini-script helps people say things concisely and clearly in an agreed-upon format. Everyone knows the steps and their options, which helps reduce anxiety for all parties. This allows people to start more conversations, and the structure helps people achieve successful outcomes, whether one-on-one or in a group setting.

The shortest mini-scripts are a single sentence; for example, a mini-script for offering help is “What would support look like?” This deceptively simple question avoids the major pitfalls of assuming you know what the other person needs or wants, and acting on those assumptions without their consent. It conveys your desire to help and also gives them control. And it gives them a chance to feel heard since you will be listening after you ask the question. Particularly if someone is worried, upset, or feeling alone and in over their head, control, support, and listening can make a big difference.

Their answer might be a specific request, or “Thanks, maybe later,” or “Will you talk this through with me and help me figure it out?” Whatever their answer, the starting point will be what they can accept at the moment, not your assumptions about what they need or want.

Mini-scripts can sound artificial at first because they are not natural language. They are distilled language, designed for clarity, simplicity, directness, and above all for success. Mini-scripts can become a kind of shorthand for your team, like jargon or in-jokes. There’s a lot of meaning packed into these short phrases, and the simple fact that you know and use them reinforces belonging in the team.

Find training on how to use structure, activities, and mini-scripts here.

Remember, as you seek to increase inclusion and equity on your team, use structure for the heavy lifting to support your team’s growth and transformation.

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