One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates. Available here and by RSS on March 11.
And on March 18: Suspense Is Not Your Friend
Most of us have to talk to other people at work. Whether to peers, subordinates, or superiors, sometimes we must convey information that can be complicated when delivered in full detail. To convey complicated ideas effectively, avoid suspense. Available here and by RSS on March 18.
Creative thinking at work can be nurtured or encouraged, but not forced or compelled. Leaders who try to compel creativity because of very real financial and schedule pressures rarely get the results they seek. Here are examples of tactics people use in mostly-futile attempts to compel creativity.
Much of the work of modern organizations requires creative thinking. But financial and schedule pressures can cause us to adopt processes that unexpectedly and paradoxically suppress creativity, thereby increasing costs and stretching schedules. What are the properties of effective approaches?
Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.
Overtalking other people is a practice that can be costly to organizations, even though it might confer short-term benefits on the people who engage in it. If you find that you are one who overtalks others, what can you do about it?
Virtual presentations are unlike face-to-face presentations, because in the virtual environment, we're competing for audience attention against unanticipated distractions. Here's Part II of a collection of tips for masterful virtual presentations.
Virtual presentations are like face-to-face presentations, in that one (or a few) people present a program to an audience. But the similarity ends there. In the virtual environment, we have to adapt if we want to deliver a message effectively. We must learn to be captivating.
Some meeting Chairs crave complete or near-complete control of their meeting agendas. In this Part II of our exploration of their techniques, we emphasize methods for managing unwanted topic contributions from attendees.
Many of us abhor meetings. Words like boring, silly, and waste come to mind. But for some meeting Chairs, meetings aren't boring at all, because they fear losing control of the agenda. To maintain control, they use the techniques of the Agenda Despots.
Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
When the Chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions to please the Chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because Chairs usually can retaliate against attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
Most meetings have Chairs or "leads." Although the expression that the Chair "owns" the meeting is usually innocent shorthand, some Chairs actually believe that they own the meeting. This view is almost entirely destructive. What are the consequences of this attitude, and what can we do about it?
Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
In group decision-making, tension sometimes develops between those who favor commitment to the opportunity at hand, and those who repeatedly ask, "If we do that, how will we do it?" Why does this happen?
When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.
Group problem solving is a common purpose of meetings. Although much group problem solving is constructive, some patterns are useless or worse. Here are some of the more popular ways to engage in problem not-solving.
Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
Rhetorical fallacies are errors of reasoning that introduce flaws in the logic of arguments. Used either intentionally or by accident, they often lead us to mistaken conclusions. The Fallacy of Composition is one of the more subtle fallacies, which makes it especially dangerous.
When a team relies on group discussion alone to evaluate proposals for the latest show-stopping near-disaster, it exposes itself to the risk that perfectly sound proposals might be inappropriately rejected. The source of some of this risk is the nature of group discussion.
A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion, the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
Reducing the length and frequency of meetings is the holy grail of organizational science. I've attended many meetings on this topic, most of which have come to naught. Here are some radical ideas that could change our lives.
Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.
We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right, or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some thoughts to help you kick the habit.
In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more effective.
When groups decide divisive issues, harmful effects can linger for weeks, months, or forever. Although those who prevail might be ready to "move on," others might feel so alienated that they experience even daily routine as fresh insult and disparagement. How a group handles divisive issues can determine its success.
In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.
Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.
Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open a universe of new choices.
The question-and-answer exchanges that occur during or after presentations rarely add much to the overall effort. But how you deal with questions can be a decisive factor in how your audience evaluates you and your message.
Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving, and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.
When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution. Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get so little done? To recover time, limit the fragmentation of your day. Here are some tips for structuring your working day in larger chunks.
Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right process for the job?
Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive. Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe even fun.
In meetings, where you sit in the room influences your effectiveness, both in the formal part of the meeting and in the milling-abouts that occur around breaks. You can take any seat, but if you make your choice strategically, you can better maintain your autonomy and power.
When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing your seat strategically.
When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting in on the meetings of your subordinates.
When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?
When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them" becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?
Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part II of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's Part I of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we can do about them.
We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering this kind of knowledge more systematically.
When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question, we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face. Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.
When an important item remains on our To-Do list for a long time, it's possible that we've found ways to avoid facing it. Some of the ways we do this are so clever that we may be unaware of them. Here's a collection of techniques we use to avoid engaging difficult problems.
At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?
Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the agenda for maximum effectiveness.
Team interactions are unimaginably complex. To avoid misunderstandings, offenses, omissions, and mistaken suppositions, teams need open communications. But no one has a full picture of everything that's happening. The Temperature Reading is a tool for surfacing hidden and invisible information, puzzles, appreciations, frustrations, and feelings.
In group problem solving, diversity of opinion and healthy, reasoned debate ensure that our conclusions take into account all the difficulties we can anticipate. Lock-step thinking — and limited debate — expose us to the risk of unanticipated risk.
You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?
A Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives
you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to
related articles. Free!