Telling It Like It IsThere is a sidebar in an article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review that offers an intriguing approach to helping company executives improve the way they conduct discussions in which internal disagreements need to be aired.
Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer, both business consultants, explain that the exercise begins with their observing an executive team "in action as members debate important agenda items or strategies."
Having taken copious notes "about who said what, when it was said, how long a particular conversation took, what the group's reaction was, and so on," Joni and Beyer then ask for a pause in the meeting so they can discuss between themselves, with team members as their audience, what they have observed.
Joni and Beyer do not pull punches.
We discuss what the established norms of the group are and whether people are adhering to them. We examine the role of the leader. We note evidence we've seen of informal influence techniques and of efforts to go out on a limb and try new things. We mention the contributions, strengths, and weaknesses of individual team members, including the leader. We keep our comments as objective and factual as possible, quoting team members directly and reporting specific reactions from the group ...Joni and Beyer report that once people recover from the shock of hearing their behavior played back to them so frankly, they almost always respond constructively.
By objectively calling out problem areas we can give people permission to try new behaviors with their peers. Invariably, after one of these sessions, quiet people will speak up, someone new takes a pen to a flip chart, individuals catch themselves in behavioral quirks, and everyone has a good laugh. But the meeting almost always becomes more productive.Joni and Beyer encourage their readers to try the exercise in their own organizations, perhaps using trusted outsiders as the commentators in order to reinforce the sense that the feedback participants are getting is objective.
Labels: Conflict management