Have you been in cross-cultural meetings where there has been an imbalance in participation with some people contributing more than others? There can be various explanations for this including differing personalities, experience levels, opinions, language skills and interest levels.
Alternatively, there may also be cultural explanations due to different communication styles and patterns across cultures. In this article, you will find a series of helpful steps to ensure you have effective, balanced cross-cultural meetings.
Before the Meeting
- Ask for input for the agenda by sending out a group email to all participants. Send individual emails to those who are less likely to respond to the group email. If needed, make a few individual phone calls.
- Send out the agenda at least 48 hours in advance (remember to consider time zone differences, if applicable) and give all participants the chance to comment on the agenda and prepare any specific content they will need to present or speak about during the meeting.
- Identify a facilitator who has three main roles: time keeping, managing the agenda and making sure everyone has the chance to contribute. Be sure to rotate the role of facilitator so everyone has a chance to facilitate a meeting. This may help people who are usually quiet to participate.
During the Meeting
- Clarify and check for understanding by repeating, summarising and paraphrasing. This ensures that individuals who did not understand also have a chance to ask questions. Be sure to pause and wait for responses to questions to ensure that participants from cultures that are comfortable with silence also have a chance to speak. If possible, confirm important numbers and statements in writing as well, e.g. in the Chat box.
- Go round one by one to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate. This works best for meetings with seven or fewer participants. For larger meetings, use pauses after questions/comments and other participation tools (chat and polls for virtual meetings) to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute in a way they are comfortable with.
- Summarise and confirm the next steps at the end. This includes tasks, deadlines and people in charge, so all participants are on the same page and have an understanding of roles and responsibilities.
After the Meeting
- Send a written summary of the meeting to all those involved. This includes the decisions made, follow up actions, people responsible for these actions and deadlines.
- Ask for feedback on both the way the meeting was conducted, and the meeting summary. Ask for input and clarification where applicable. This gives people who didn’t feel comfortable speaking up during the meeting another chance to contribute to the next steps. This also ensures that people can mention any challenges they may have regarding meeting deadlines or completing the actions they are responsible for.
- Follow up informally to check understanding and agreement by individual email and possibly a few phone calls so those who are not comfortable responding to a formal email are also able to share their perspective.
The tips above can ensure that participants contribute in various ways regardless of cultural or other differences that might typically prevent them from speaking up. By creating various opportunities for all participants to share their thoughts before, during and after the meeting you are able to bring in different perspectives and create greater team cohesion. While it may seem like more work initially, following these steps can prevent misunderstandings, missed deadlines and poor performance in the future.
Want more cross-cultural tips? Check out Dr. Zsuzsanna Tungli’s book: The Culture Key Between Asia and the West.