Charlene now regretted bringing in a facilitator. The whole meeting was running off the road, and the people at Diamond Square, conferenced in by telephone, were obviously feeling more alienated than ever.
Joanne, the facilitator, also sensed the problem. "I have a proposal," she said. "Let's end this meeting now, and resume on Thursday. Since I was here today, on Thursday I'll join the people at Diamond Square, and we'll pick up from there."
Charlene's team is struggling with the effects of latent communications — messages we send and receive outside our awareness. Joanne's suggestion might help. By facilitating from Diamond Square, she helps the people there to feel more included, and she can get to know them better, too. Her presence there will help to create status parity between the two parts of the team.
When a team is geographically split, latent messages abound, and because these messages so often relate to status, they affect everyone's self-esteem. Here are some examples of latent messages, with ideas for dealing with them.
- Choice of site
- Holding meetings When a team is geographically
split, latent messages
abound. They affect
everyone's self-esteem.at the home base of the largest sub-team might save travel dollars, but it can be the highest-cost option. The latent message is that the host group is at the top of the hierarchy, which undermines a spirit of collaboration. Instead, give every site a chance to host. Choose meeting sites that elevate groups of low status, or choose neutral sites that make everyone travel.
- Choice of terminology
- The names of sites can convey latent (or obvious) status messages. For instance, "HQ," "home office," "remote site" and "field office" are especially toxic, because they convey status messages. Instead, describe sites in geographical terms — by building name, street, city, state, or country.
- Choice of traveler
- When only a few people are involved, as in a small cross-site collaboration, we have a tendency to ask the people from the smaller or lower-status sites to do the traveling. This choice re-enforces the status disparity. Instead, make a regular practice of exchanging team members across sites for visits of at least three days at a time. Track travel, and use it as a leveler of perceived status.
- Choice of site for the meeting leader or facilitator
- For telephone or videoconferences, the site that has the meeting chair or facilitator has higher status. Rotate the site choice. This might mean inconvenience or increased travel for the leader, but that's the price of peace.
Although some of these suggestions might appear to be costly, cost comparisons are tricky. Your accounting system probably tracks travel pretty well, but it probably doesn't track the cost of team conflict, feuds, or the passive resistance and schedule delays that they generate. When you compare alternatives, be careful to estimate all costs. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Managing Pressure: The Unexpected
- When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this
happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing
- Dismissive Gestures: I
- Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated,
we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a
catalog of non-verbal insults.
- The Advantages of Political Attack: I
- In workplace politics, attackers sometimes prevail even when the attacks are specious, and even when
the attacker's job performance is substandard. Why are attacks so effective, and how can targets respond
- Masked Messages
- Sometimes what we say to each other isn't what we really mean. We mask the messages, or we form them
into what are usually positive structures, to make them appear to be something less malicious than they
are. Here are some examples of masked messages.
- Strategic Waiting
- Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight
places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option.
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- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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