Too often, business meetings overlook an essential element needed for success: open, honest, discussion. Real, limiting issues and obstacles are skirted or glossed over because no one wants to take them on. There’s a better way.
It’s become a noticeable pattern endemic to senior leadership teams. Meetings are planned and organized, preparations are made, and the session takes place. Key topics are covered, and a path forward agreed upon. Assignments are made, schedules and timelines established and a date for the next meeting is set. So far, so good. So, what happens next?
In my experience, what happens next is that the real meeting takes place. And that meeting takes place in smaller groups or in dyads (two colleagues meeting one on one) and the purpose of these ad hoc discussions is to “review” the results of the prior, full team meeting. Most often, this review takes the form of criticism and doubt, questioning the decisions made and actions (supposedly) agreed upon. What’s going on here?
While it’s common for people in smaller groups to be more open and honest than they are in larger team meetings, it is nevertheless damaging to the integrity of the team to question and criticize decisions made during a meeting in which the dissenting person was an active participant. So why does this happen and more importantly, how can this be remedied?
Avoiding conflict is an all too typical behavioral response, even at the highest levels of organizational leadership. Issues that need to be “hashed out” are deferred or ignored completely in part because the individuals involved lack the training and skill to actively discuss, dialogue and debate effectively without risking permanent damage to relationships with their colleagues. So, the default is to remain silent during the meeting (when these matters should be put on the table) and to instead engage in non-productive ways of expressing concerns and criticisms in a context where real resolution is not likely to happen.
Trust and confidence in members of the team are compromised as word of these “gripe sessions” inevitably work its way back to the larger group. This, too, is ignored at the full meeting but the effect is fully felt and the cumulative impact over time undermines the effectiveness of the team. What to do?
Establishing, agreeing, and adhering to meeting ground rules (silence means acceptance, the meeting will be held here and now, this is a safe place, say what you think and feel) can help provided they are enforced by all meeting participants. Leadership skills training, including conflict resolution can be invaluable in helping to increase the effectiveness of leadership teams.
For more ways to increase the strength and impact of your leadership team, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.