How to solicit feedback to make your meetings better

How to solicit feedback to make your meetings better
Photo by Jon Tyson / Unsplash

Feedback: it’s the one thing we know we need, but can be reluctant to get. Oftentimes we look at feedback as something that opens us up to criticism, when really we should be looking at it as an opportunity to improve.

You know what rarely gets quality feedback in the workplace? Meetings. We’re not talking about meetings specifically around feedback about a project or employee performance, we’re talking about meetings themselves. How often do you sit down with your team and ask “how could this meeting be better?” Probably not often.

We’re going to look at steps you can take to solicit feedback from your team to ultimately improve the meetings you’re already having. (Even feedback meetings…meta.)

  1. Determine the reason for getting feedback
  2. Ask the right questions
  3. Ask on the spot
  4. Get deep with suggestions
  5. Be open
  6. Iterate

1. Determine the reason for getting feedback

First you need to decide why you want feedback. The main reason may be that you’ve never actually asked your team if they like the meetings they’re in. Unfortunately, meetings are a widely accepted workplace phenomena that are rarely optimized.

Figure out the purpose for getting feedback. Is it because meetings are running over time and you want to reel them in? Is it because you are starting to recognize that one person dominates the conversation and everyone else has a dazed look on their face like they could drift off into an alternate reality at any moment? Maybe you’re running meetings yourself and feel like your team isn’t engaged.

Whatever it is, the best way to determine what feedback you want is to determine the biggest issue you’re facing in these calls. That will inform the rest.

2. Ask the right questions

Getting good feedback is always about asking the right questions. Asking “do you like this meeting” is not really going to give you constructive advice.

Here are a few questions we’ve found that kick off the right conversation:

  • How could we run this standup better?
  • How would you suggest we shave 20 minutes off this meeting? What can we get rid of?
  • Is there a better format for this meeting?
  • What can I do better as a host of this meeting?

You see the theme here? First, it’s important that you’re asking questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no. Next, you’re spinning these questions in a positive light… how can things be improved, not why do you hate this? And finally, you want to make it so that your colleagues feel like they can give honest critique without any defensiveness or backlash from you. (You won’t take this personally, right??)

3. Ask on the spot

The best feedback is immediate feedback. If you’re looking to optimize meetings, why not work in a 5 minute session at the end where you are strictly discussing the meeting you just had and dissecting how it could be better? That way, it’s fresh in everyone’s mind, and opens up the floor for IRL (or at least as IRL as zoom is) discussion.

One way to do this is to have a quick brainstorm. If you’re using Sesh, this is easily facilitated. You ask the question you’ve already prepared (like the ones we talked about 3 paragraphs ago) and allow your team to pose ideas using Sesh’s Brainstorm activity. By the end of it, you’ll have a handful of great suggestions that your team can vote on. Of course, you don’t need Sesh to do something like this, it just helps 😃

4. Go deep

Feedback is only valuable if it is actionable, so don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and ideas. If someone is saying that the meeting is too long, then you’ll need to ask how they recommend shortening it. People are almost always happy to pose problems, but rarely are they prepared to offer solutions, without a little bit of nudging.

Getting into the practice of not only asking for feedback, but getting deep into the solutions will ultimately help you solve these problems. Which is like, the entire point of gathering feedback.

5. Be open

This should go without being said, but it’s always a good reminder: be open to the suggestions you’re receiving. Sometimes it can be hard to get feedback if you immediately take it as a criticism. I’m not a life coach or anything, but I do know that constructive criticism is ultimately a positive thing. Remember that all of this feedback is a way to improve, which you’ll ultimately benefit from.

Don't be a Mr. Burns

Another reason to be open is because it opens up your team, too. The way you react to feedback will ultimately determine the way your team provides feedback. You don’t want to provide a negative experience, or your team will be apprehensive to provide honest feedback in the future.

6. Iterate

When you’re getting suggestions on how to improve your meetings, it's important to remember that there's value in trying something new, even if you're not sure whether it will work. So, you don't have to feel stuck with one decision or experiment forever. If you have a lot of meetings, then you have a lot of opportunities to iterate.

Circling back, when you’re iterating, it’s important to continue the feedback loop. That’s why we recommend asking on the spot: leave a few minutes at the end of each new experimental meeting to get feedback on how it went.

Hopefully it won't actually take thousands...

This is super easy with Sesh (and we actually do it at our meetings all the time). Add a Vote activity to the end of your agenda and give yourself 3-5 minutes for it. You can ask “do we like this new format” or “was this better or worse than our last iteration?” In this case, a yes or no answer works well. The team will have the opportunity to cast their vote and you’ll have a very, very quick answer about whether or not the newest suggestion worked for everyone.

Now you have the tools and confidence to go out there and get feedback on your calls. It’s amazing what asking for feedback can do to improve meetings.