Here are some simple suggestions to structure your meetings in a way that will encourage communication.
Insist on the full attention of all participants. Turn off the cell phones. Limit outside interruptions to emergencies. Remind people that sidebar discussions often have value and to let everyone hear what’s being said.
Avoid food. Food has social meaning, and people tend to socialize as a result. On a practical note, food can be messy and can distract people from the important business at hand. Eat later.
Keep an eye on the time. Stop times are just as important as start times. Create a budget whereby you allot a certain number of minutes to each topic. If someone goes over budget, ask them to save it for after the official meeting—those who wish to continue the discussion can remain after. Have a clock in a conspicuous place so people aren’t looking at their watches (they won’t be able to look at their phones for the time, because all the phones are turned off—remember?).
Have a Parking Lot. This can be a whiteboard, or a flip-chart, or even sticky notes plastered on a wall, but have a place to put ideas, thoughts, or suggestions to be discussed at a later time. Assign a recorder to maintain this (and rotate the job every meeting).
No dumb questions! If one person is confused about something, there are probably others just as confused. It should be a safe enough environment that people aren’t afraid to participate. A lot of good ideas are lost because people have been conditioned not to speak up, and a lot of confusion has been created because of the fear of embarrassment.
DBMP—BMS. That stands for “Don’t Bring Me Problems—Bring Me Solutions.” Anybody can complain, and, of course it’s important to know where there are problems, but make it a rule that before you pose a problem to the group, have at least two or three possible solutions to present as well. Give others options.
Attendance matters. Be punctual. To do otherwise is rude.
Share tools and ideas.
Don’t reject radical ideas out of hand. The old saying is that we have two ears and only one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak.
Have everyone walk out with a plan. This involves action items to handle before the next meeting. Everyone should be prepared to discuss their progress at the next meeting.
Set fire to something and sing “Kumbaya.” Ok—I just made that up, but at the very least thank people for their attendance and participation. The goal is to train them to look forward to the next meeting rather than to dread it.