Business Negotiation May 27, 2014

Helping to Open a Wider Exchange of Viewpoints: What Team Leaders Can Do

Department managers and team or project leaders play a similar and challenging role in conducting effective group meetings. What they must strive for is a brisk exchange of relevant viewpoints. They want members to openly share ideas and discuss their concerns about the project and other matters that trouble them. Conducting such meetings requires preparation. The alternative to a high level of preparation is chaos and drift.

Meetings of the Los Angeles school board provide an example of such wasteful drift. A recent editorial describes a typical board meeting. Board meetings, as the editorial points out, are characterized mainly by drawn out debates over minutiae. Members indulge in longwinded repetitive speeches after spending long periods honoring people that few in the meeting have ever heard of or care about. As the meetings drag on, members of the board are distracted by their computer, cell phones, etc. They have no qualms about interrupting speakers or whispering to each other on the side. Meetings generally start at 1 p.m. and drift slowly into evening. People who have come to speak cool their heels for hours before speaking or give up trying and leave.

The editorial goes on to say that it doesn’t have to be this way. It contrasts Boston school meetings with those in Los Angeles. Boston meetings start at 6 p.m. and end in two hours. No e-mails, text messages or side conversations are allowed. Those who speak are expected to come to the point. Time is not wasted on non-business matters like meaningless anniversaries or celebrating people still living at 100 years of age. Interruptions are unacceptable except in emergencies.

Those in charge of meetings at work should run them like the Boston School Board. Their responsibility is to make efficient use of their associate’s talents and time. By insisting on a high level of preparation, courtesy and self-discipline on the part of those attending, associates will feel they belong and are appreciated. They will in turn contribute their thoughts more candidly. Trust and respect are likely to grow in such a climate along with creativity.

Creativity is born of necessity and disagreement as to how and what needs to be done and how. Ready agreement between people and commands from above on how to solve problems do not lead to inventiveness. Team leaders and department managers who welcome collaboration and are unafraid of dissent will enjoy a higher level of group creativity than those who dampen differences or wish them away. Leaders who criticize, preach or judge associates in front of others, or behind their backs, also serve to reduce the flow of creative energy and group contribution to innovative solutions.

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