Category Archives: Meetings

Who Listens to Whom?

“If you don’t think I should have given the team my list of ideas before asking for their ideas, why didn’t you just say so?” Susan curtly asked.

“Would you have listened to me?” I replied. “Does your team listen to you?”

“Apparently, my team does NOT listen to me,” Susan stopped. “My team doesn’t listen to me, and I don’t listen to you. Nobody’s listening.”

“If your team is not listening to you, what could you do differently?” I smiled. “Remember, the goal is NOT to get them to listen to you (because they won’t), but to get their ideas on how to speed up daily output?”

Susan was obstinate, but the questions were breaking her down.

I continued. “If your team is not listening to YOUR ideas, whose ideas will they listen to?”

Susan was reluctant to reply, but she finally did. “I guess they will only listen to their own ideas.”

What Was the Purpose?

“What would you do differently, to get a different outcome?” I repeated.

“I don’t know,” Susan replied. “They are just not a very creative team. I don’t know why I even try to get ideas from them.”

“Susan, what if I told you that your team is as creative as any team I have ever seen work together, and that you, as their manager, have to find a different way to get them to contribute?”

“I would say you were wrong.”

I nodded. “Yes, and if your team really was a creative team, what could you do differently?”

Susan realized I was not going to let this go, but she was still stumped in silence.

I continued. “When you gave the team a list of your ideas up front, before asking for their ideas, what were you communicating? Not with words, but with the list?”

“You mean I should not have given them my list?” Susan asked.

“What was your purpose in calling the meeting?”

“I wanted to get the team’s ideas,” she replied.

“To get ideas from the team, what could you have done differently?”

What Would You Do Differently?

“I don’t understand,” Susan complained. “My team just isn’t very creative, they never contribute ideas.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We have a problem meeting our output goals, some days we fall a little short, some days we fall short by a lot,” she started. “I called a meeting to get some ideas on how we could speed things up. To kickstart the meeting, I distributed a list of my ideas and then asked for ideas from the team.”

“And?”

“And, I got no response, zero, nothing. The team just sat there, avoiding eye contact, looking at the ceiling, doodling on my list. Someone said they liked my ideas. After two minutes I adjourned the meeting. The team was worthless.”

“Then what happened?”

“That’s the worst part. One of my ideas was to start on time, but when I called out half the team for being late to start, all I got was grumbling. That day, we had the worst level of productivity of the week.”

“So, if you had the meeting to do over again, what would you do differently?” I prompted.

Susan just shook her head. “I would have cancelled the meeting before it started,” she snapped.

“But, if you DID have the meeting, what would you do differently to get a different outcome?”

Getting Consensus?

Adelle emerged from the conference room after two long hours of debate. She shook her head from side to side, a genuine look of despair. “I tried,” she shrugged, “but we didn’t make a whole lot of progress. What we ended up with was mostly crap.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh, we have been trying to figure out the best way to solve this problem and there are a bunch of ideas, but we just can’t reach a consensus on which way to proceed. I am afraid to get started until I know for sure that everyone is on board. But every time we make a compromise, other people drop off and want something different.”

“What happens to the quality of the solution every time you compromise?”

“That’s the real problem. It’s the compromising that kills it. After listening to all the input, I know what we should do and the little compromises just water it down. We might as well junk the whole project because, in this state, it will not do what the customer wants it to do.”

“Whose meeting did you just walked out of?” I asked.

It was Adelle’s turn to ask, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, was it the team’s meeting, or was it your meeting? Let me put it a different way. Who is your boss going to hold accountable for this decision?”

“Oh, I tried that once, blaming a decision on the team. I got the message. My boss is going to hold me accountable for the decision.”

“Then, it wasn’t a team meeting. It was YOUR meeting that the team got invited to. It is your responsibility to listen to the input, and it is also your responsibility to make the decision. And you don’t need agreement, you just need support.”

Adelle had to sit down to think about this one.

Managing Conflict?

This meeting was different. Business as usual was shattered like crystal on a marble floor. The usual comfort level was suddenly traded for a stomach flipping tension-filled discussion.

“I am sorry, but I have to disagree.” The silence dropped, eyes got wide, butts in chairs started shifting. Someone cleared their throat. This team was at a cross roads. The next few minutes would determine whether it engaged in productive work or disengaged to avoid the conflict currently on the table.

This is not a question of managing conflict, more a matter of managing agreement. In fact, the more the group tries to manage the conflict, the more likely the agreement will be coerced and compromised with the real issues suppressed, perhaps even undiscussable.

Conversely, if the group engaged in a process to manage agreement, the conflict might be heard, even encouraged, thoroughly discussed. Opposing viewpoints might be charted out and debated. Expectations might be described at both maximum success and dismal failure. Indicators could be created with contingency plans for positive and negative scenarios.

Does your team manage conflict to make sure discussions are comfortable and efficient?

OR…

Does your team encourage spirited discussion of both sides of an issue? When things get uncomfortable, can your team live through the stress of conflict to arrive at a well argued decision?

When I look around the room and see that each person is comfortably sitting, I can bet the issue on the table is of little importance. But, if I see stomachs tied in knots, this issue on the table is likely to be important.

That Feeling in Your Stomach

Cheryl was waiting in the conference room when I arrived. I could see that her meeting had some unexpected twists.

“I felt like I had been fed to the wolves,” she started. “You were right, they said the problems with the finished goods were my problems. They said that I was responsible for the 2 percent increase in failure rate.”

I nodded. “So, how did your stomach feel?”

Cheryl looked genuinely pissed, but maintained her composure. “It was upside down. You could have cut the tension with a knife.”

“That’s good,” I said. “When your stomach is upside down, you are almost always talking about a real issue that needs to be out on the table.” Cheryl may have been looking for sympathy. “So, what did you say?”

“I practiced that stupid speech we talked about, so that is what I said. I told them that I needed their help. It felt strange. I didn’t like it. I felt like I was leaving my reputation totally in their hands. I felt like I was losing control.”

“And how did they respond?” I asked. “Did they argue with you?”

“Well, no,” Cheryl replied. “They were mostly silent. Then Hector pulled one of the parts from the reject pile. He pointed out a burr that was in the same place on every part. Sammy spoke up and said they had run short on that same part the week before. Get this. Because they were short, they used the rejected parts to finish the batch.

“They said they would have asked me what to do, but that I had been yelling at them, so they all kept quiet.” Cheryl stopped.

“It was a tough session?”

“It seems I was the problem. Yes, it was a tough session.”

Idea Connection

“Why can’t I get more participation in my meetings?” Janet asked.

I nodded. “Some say that it is the fear of disagreeing with the boss, but I find it is a more universal fear. It is the fear of floating an idea that carries the possibility of rejection.”

I let that sink in a moment. “As a Manager, if you want to promote deeper, richer, more truthful conversations in your team, try this. As ideas are contributed, create a follow-up comment that expands the idea, creates an insight to that idea or connects the idea to a higher purpose, goal or solution. Breathe life into every contribution.”

Two weeks later, I overheard one of Janet’s team members talking at the water cooler. “Our meetings have really gotten better. Janet makes all of our ideas sound so smart.”

Ideas really are smart when you can connect them to a purpose, a goal or a solution.

Meetings De-Railed

“I’m tired of my team, whining and complaining in meetings. Then, they look at me, like I have to come up with the solution,” Janet shook her head.

“How are you going to fix that?” I asked.

“Not sure, every meeting seems to get de-railed.”

“Then why don’t you de-rail the meeting. Before the whining begins, re-state the purpose for the meeting (the problem to be solved), and ask everyone to write down two possible solutions. Only give them 45 seconds, they don’t need a long time.

This accomplishes two things:
1. It points everyone in the direction of a solution before the conversation has a chance to get de-railed.
2. It communicates that it is the responsibility of every team member to contribute in the solving of a problem.”

The Porpoise

“Purpose?” Phillip squinted.

“Purpose,” I repeated. “The first step to having important meetings is to be crystal clear on its purpose. We tell Project Managers they need to have meetings, and then we wonder why their meetings fall apart. Bottom line is that most companies don’t train supervisors and managers on how to conduct an effective meeting. They just expect it to happen, like magic.”

“So we need to start with purpose?” asked Phillip.

“Everything starts with purpose. Meetings run amuck when there is no purpose, or where people attending have different purposes. Until we get those purposes out on the table, our meeting is going to meander aimlessly.”

“How do we do that? Send an email out before the meeting?” pondered Phillip.

“Yes, it’s as simple as that. But think about it. How many meetings did you attend during the past month where there was no stated purpose and no agenda?”

Phillip didn’t have to think long. “You know, I don’t think I went to a single meeting last month where there was a published agenda, much less, a stated purpose.”

“Now, I know some things managed to get done in those meetings, but they could have been much more effective. Do that one simple thing, and teach your PMs to do the same and you will see an improvement.”

The Fear in Contribution

“Does anyone have any ideas about how we can solve this problem?” Wayne asked. The team just sat there, staring at him with lizard eyes, fixated, motionless. Sure, it was Wednesday (hump day), but the atmosphere was limp.

It was like throwing a party where no one shows up. You think you have done your job as a manager, assembling the troops to solve a problem, but you get no response from the team.

It’s not lethargy and your people are not stupid. I find the biggest problem is fear. Fear that their idea will be seen as inadequate or silly.

Prime the pump. Simple solution. Pair everyone up. Have team members work two by two for a brief period of time (brief, like 45 seconds), then reconvene the group. Working in pairs takes the fear out. People can try on their thoughts in the privacy of a twosome before exposing the idea to the group. Primes the pump every time.