Does this sound familiar? You’re in a meeting. There’s a problem to be solved. Someone throws out an idea with oodles of rationale only to be countered by someone else with an opposing one. Then the volley begins. The bystanders choose who to support or stay silent on the sidelines. Egos are at stake and, instead of solving the problem, you find yourself looking for a compromise for the sake of “team”. If compromise becomes the priority, you lose credibility with your staff and the focus on what’s best for the customer or stakeholder is diminished. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are a few things to end the tug-of-war.
Make sure you’re solving the right problem. When you gather folks from various teams or departments, you’re likely to have several different perceptions of the problem. Before jumping into solutions, make sure the problem is clearly defined by asking some of the following questions:
• How did this issue come to light?
• Who is being impacted?
• What is the impact?
• What data is there to measure the severity or importance of the issue?
Sometimes this clarification process may even reveal that the problem was simply a misunderstanding of expectations and nothing needs to be solved. While it’s more fun and energizing to fix something, slowing down to determine what the real issue is will save time and energy.
Gather ideas in advance. Once you’ve defined the problem, start your quest for solutions in advance of a group discussion. Why? Because teams that have worked together for a while become predictable. You can probably predict who will identify the problem, who will have the most detailed ideas and which team member(s) will just sit back and criticize. Ask team members to submit their own individual ideas to you prior to the meeting and offer up a prize for the most out of the box thinking. Collate the input and wait until the meeting to share the ideas.
Designate a chair in the room to represent the customer or stakeholder. It’s amazing to me how much we (me included) can get so invested in having our idea win that we forget who we’re serving. Having the “customer” in the room reminds everyone of the reason for the company’s existence and the importance of considering the customer’s perspective.
Start your meeting by reading all the ideas (without identifying the authors) and inform the group that you don’t think any of them hits the mark. Crazy, I know. There may very well be that one great idea that stands alone but I think it’s rare. Even if there is one, saying there’s not helps to diminish the “my idea is the best because…” arguments. Go through each idea as a group focusing on its merits and shortcomings. Remember the contest for the most out of the box idea? There may be team members who are afraid they’ll be ridiculed for their off the wall thinking. By encouraging it, you’re more likely to engage creativity in everyone as well as create a safe environment for some who might otherwise remain silent. Who knows, there may be a nugget or two that ends up in the ultimate solution. End the meeting by having the group rank the ideas in order of feasibility and encourage them to consider the top three.
Sleep on it. In our rush to move on to the next issue, we bypass one of our best tools for gaining clarity . . . our unconscious mind. There’s a lot of neuro-science research that I could cite, but I’ll speak from experience. Stepping away and engaging in other life activities gives your unconscious the time and space it needs to mull things over and make connections with other situations you’ve experienced. We’ve all had aha! moments in the shower or ideas that pop up while exercising. Our brain continues to work the problem even when we’ve consciously stopped. And when we sleep, your brain goes into cleansing mode. I think of it as the 3rd shift maintenance crew. The trash is removed, the equipment is sanitized and your work station is filled with all the supplies needed for the day. Lastly, your unconscious delivers an intuition that either confirms your decision or offers alternatives for consideration.
Reassemble the group and discuss the options. Encourage discussion with open-ended questions such as, “What new thoughts or ideas should we consider?” You’ll probably end up with options that have been modified and/or a brand new idea for consideration. After everyone is clear on the options, ask each person to choose one with a brief explanation. If you end up with consensus….great. If not, let the team know what decision you made and why.
Avoiding an ego-driven tug-of-war is one of the best ways to produce decisions, ideas and outcomes that meet the needs of the organization, its mission and its customers. It’s best to let go of the “rope” and join hands in collaboration.
Carol Wilson joined Empathia in 1990. As Senior Vice President, Customer Relations and COO, she oversees all service operations at Empathia. Additionally, Carol is an experienced corporate trainer and consultant who has worked with a number of high profile corporate entities. She is an associate certified coach and a member of the International Coach Federation.