By Gale Mote / Guest Column
As I work with teams, I find that eliminating the “meeting after the meeting” is one of the biggest hurdles teams need to overcome before they can work cohesively together. The ability to be real and transparent with one another in the moment is difficult.
Why does it matter? When team members hold back and only openly share their thoughts with a select group of co-workers after the meeting, all kinds of problem emerge:
- Team members begin to second-guess decisions
- Productivity drops as team members struggle to identify who does what and how
- Morale drops as members blame one another and make excuses for why things aren’t getting done
- Cliques and factions form
- A serious lack of alignment takes hold
The whole purpose of engaging in open communication is to gain clarity and commitment for decisions and actions so the team can execute well. Teams make better and faster decisions but only if they tap into the ideas and expertise of everyone. They function best when everyone is on the same page.
Creating a safe environment in which everyone can weigh in begins with building vulnerability-based trust. Consider starting your meetings with a “human connection” question such as: What was a mistake you made and what did you learn from it? What is something that is a struggle for you? What is the best recognition you ever received and why did it mean so much to you?
When I see someone across the table from me as a real person with needs and challenges similar to my own, I will approach her with more empathy and insight. Engaging in open dialogue requires that we assume positive intent – always give the benefit of the doubt.
Next, discuss the personality styles and preferences of everyone on the team. For some, it is natural to speak out and state their opinions. Others find it difficult to formulate their thoughts quickly and share a response. Under stress, some styles become intimidating and others resort to passive-aggressive behavior. As a team, discuss how your style helps contribute to healthy conflict, as well as when your behaviors can become detrimental to team progress.
Use these conversations to create conflict norms or guidelines. How can each team member bring out the best in one another so that everyone is actively engaged and participating in the meeting? Examples include:
- “Stoking” an idea before you soak it
- Saying “yes, and” rather than “yes, but”
- Ensuring agendas are out 24-48 hours in advance so team members have time to think and prepare
- Using structured brainstorming so everyone has a chance to share their ideas
- Expecting 100 percent participation
- Asking clarifying questions and showing that you are really listening by referring back to previous comments others have made by using their name and restating what was said
- Separating facts from opinions
- Being appreciative of those who speak out. Positively reinforce what you want to see more of.
Team leaders need to be especially sensitive when they are present as teams are brainstorming ideas, solving problems and making recommendations. Don’t sit at the head of the table – sitting off to the side helps to equalize the team. State that for this meeting you are not the boss, just another team member, and that Vegas rules apply – what’s said in here stays in here and will not show up on your performance review. Speak last so that your opinions and ideas do not sway the team or make it uncomfortable for members to challenge you. Role model the behaviors you want to see team members demonstrating with one another.
Simple, practical steps can help to eliminate the meeting after the meeting. It takes discipline, focus and reinforcement. Keep checking in and observing behaviors during and after meetings. Hold yourself and others accountable to do what’s right – say what needs to be said when everyone can benefit from the message.
Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at email@example.com.