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The Problem

Losing your marbles: Meetings – getting some to talk less & others to talk more

Getting balanced participation in meetings can prove elusive. Some team members like to talk – and do; others hardly talk, but should.

How do you get some of your team to talk less and others to talk more? How do you encourage both active listening and active participation at the same time?

The Solution:

Before your next team meeting place a small bowl at each place setting – so that every participant has his or her own bowl. In the bowl place 7 marbles (can also use sweets). At the very outset of the meeting explain that every time a person speaks they lose a marble (have a central bowl in which these ‘used marbles’ can be placed. You might even place one of your own marbles in the central dish once you have finished explain this ‘new rule’.

Once a person’s marbles are finished they no longer have a voice in the meeting.

Be sure to ‘police’ the meeting strictly in that even a comment made in jest counts as a marble. It might well be that having explained the rules someone right at the start will pass a comment in jest and provide you an immediate opportunity to demonstrate the new rule. Watch what happens to your meeting!


The initial impact might be a somewhat ‘stilted’ conversation but don’t be put-off by this as it simply means people are having to get used to being far more intentional around what they say. This is part of the benefit / learning.

Those who talk a lot will soon run out of marbles and then note their continued ‘presence’ in the meeting in which they no longer have a voice.

This might lead to some frustration so be prepared for that reaction. Note how others start speaking as the verbal playing field is levelled. Some amazing things can happen in meetings through this exercise. You might want to instil it for more than one meeting and once finished, you should ‘step back’ and get the team to reflect on what took place and insights gained. How many marbles you place in each bowl (the suggestion was 7) is entirely your call but ‘less is more’ in this exercise.

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