How to Get Closure on Meeting Topics You Raise

Roger Schwarz

Have you ever raised a topic in a meeting, only to have it disappear into a black hole, never to be seen again? You may have identified a problem you think needed action or asked an important question you needed an answer to. Instead, you left the meeting wondering what it would take to get the team to respond to you.

One of the most common ways that teams undermine their effectiveness in meetings is failing to follow through on topics that a member raises. When you raise a topic and don’t get a response, it can reduce the quality of the team’s performance, your working relationship with team members, and your motivation to contribute to the team.Postit-raise-and-resolve-the-issues-2

If this has happened to you, what led you to not follow through? A common reason is that team members often have a “one leader in a room” mindset. They believe that that there is only one leader in a room—the person who has the most authority—and that that person is solely responsible for ensuring that the meeting process is effective. If you hold this mindset, when you raise a topic in the meeting and no one responds, you wait for the leader to bring the conversation back to your topic. If the leader doesn’t do it, you get frustrated with the other team members for ignoring you and frustrated with the leader for not managing the meeting well. But you don’t take responsibility for getting your topic addressed.

To increase the chance that you get a response, consider operating from a “lead from every chair” mindset. That means you assume everyone in the meeting—including you—shares responsibility for managing the process.

With this mindset in place, here’s a simple principle for getting your meeting comments addressed: If you launch it, land it. Think of your question or comment as a plane—and you are the pilot. Your job is to get the plane off the runway, cover the ground that needs to be covered, and land the plane. This doesn’t mean that you will get the answer you want, just that the issue will be adequately addressed.

Launching the Topic
Here are some actions to take to get your topic off the runway:

  • Ask people for their responses. Say something like, “I’d like to hear what each of you think about my suggestion, so we can figure out whether we should take any action. Can we go around the room and hear from everyone?”
  • Ask to put the topic on the agenda. Sometimes people may ignore your comment because they don’t see how it’s related to the meeting topic. If your comment isn’t related, or is related but can be addressed separately from the current topic, ask if you can add it to the agenda.
  • Test your inference about why members aren’t responding. If you think people aren’t responding because it’s a difficult topic to address, it may take too much time, or for some other reason, test your inference. Say something like, “Justin, from your sigh, I’m thinking you’re concerned this is too big an issue to tackle in this meeting. Is that what you’re thinking or something else?” If people are simply not responding and not offering any nonverbal reaction, you can say, “When I made my comment, no one said anything. Help me understand, how should I interpret the silence?”

All of the actions above get the conversation started, but you still need to get out all the relevant information and then come to an agreement—land the plane.

Landing the Topic
When it’s time to get closure on the topic, make sure you check with everyone. Without an explicit check, you may leave the meeting believing there is agreement when there isn’t.

Don’t ask, “Does everyone agree?” or “Can everyone support this?” No one is everyone, so a member who disagrees may say nothing and you will mistakenly take silence for consent. There are two clear ways to check for agreement:

  • Check whether each member agrees. Say something like, “It sounds like we may have agreement to support the start the program next quarter. I’m going to quickly go around the room and to ask if you can support this.” Then you ask each person in the meeting who is part of the decision. Some teams have an agreed upon method of responding to these questions, such as holding up between zero and four fingers, with each representing a greater level of commitment.
  • Check if any member does not agree. Say something like, “It sounds like we may have agreement to support the start the program next quarter. Let me check: Is there anyone who does not support starting the program next quarter?”

I prefer the first approach for small groups or for important decisions. It can take a little more time, but asking each person to respond verbally or visually is asking for a more explicit sign of commitment. It also enables you to watch how each person responds and follow up if you think they have any concerns.

By using the principle “If you launch it, land it,” you increase the chance of getting answers, help your team use its time well, and serve as a model for others.

originally published October 2015