‘There’s always one!’
… is a common exclamation in the United Kingdom, used in a variety of circumstances, from someone spilling a glass of red wine at the Christmas party to someone at odds with fellow team members. Typically, that person won’t be popular because we are programmed to want everyone to agree with us and feel threatened when they don’t.
Returning to the UK after many years abroad, while working in the public sector, I will never forget how I would come out of a team meeting and wonder what was the point of the meeting, if any action points had come out of it and why there was very little discussion going on. In fact, I noticed more animated debate by the coffee/tea table after the meeting. I was so clueless, I asked a colleague to accompany me to meetings in the first month, so I could gauge the discussions through their more experienced eyes.
So-called ‘difficult’ people
In a team situation, we may be tempted to label the person not in agreement with the rest of the group as ‘difficult’ – or worse! By being a part of the majority, we feel validated in our thinking and, consequently, good about ourselves. Stress levels stay on an even keel, and decisions are made with confidence.
Sycophantic ‘yes’ people
But what if that ‘difficult’ person is right to challenge and the others are simply ‘yes’ people, agreeing with the team leader or peers because they are intimidated by authority or intimidating personalities? Are group members worried about looking stupid in front of their peers and/or boss? Concerned about the consequences of showing dissent, or simply reluctant to stand out from the crowd? What if the organisational culture does not lend itself to free thinkers, or people voicing their true opinions?
Now ask yourself about the meetings you participate in:
- In meetings, do people almost always agree with you?
- Are decisions debated?
- Is there eye contact between members?
- What does the body language of team members look like? Are they engaged or disenfranchised?
- In one-on-ones, do people argue with you?
- Who’s doing most of the talking?
- Are you apt to take on board criticism?
If you answered these questions honestly, you may conclude that the meetings are not as productive as you may have thought. What is the point of holding an important decision-making meeting if it is merely to autocratically rubber stamp decisions?
So here are 6 tips for productive team meetings:
- Don’t label anyone! Don’t be judgemental. Value your fellow team members.
- Rotate the team meeting leader (with advanced notice and not as a chore). This promotes greater participation and produces insights into how the meetings may be better run.
- Embrace disagreement – encourage free thinking and voicing of opinions. Discourage ‘yes’ people. Valuing differing opinions encourages debate and innovative ideas. Remember, there is no single truth or right answer.
- The group should appoint a ‘devil’s advocate’ if there isn’t a member with this inclination.
- Read body language to see who is engaged and more importantly, who isn’t. Bring disengaged people back into the meeting.
- Above all, group members should listen more than they speak.
Lesley Anne Rubenstein-Pessok, MD of LAR Consultancy Ltd, has spent her whole career in executive roles, working with start-ups and SME businesses, helping them to become more efficient, increase turnover, improve profitability, cost effectiveness and create strategies that pay off. Her client testimonials say it all. The material for this article is taken from her workshop on ‘Effective Leadership’.