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
- Obstructionist Tactics: I
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. What tactics
do obstructors use?
- Political Framing: Communications
- In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual
by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for
reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some communications tactics framers use.
- Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness
- "Never mind" can mean anything from "Excuse me, I'm sorry," to, "You lame idiot,
it's beyond you," and more. The former is apologetic and courteous. The latter is dismissive and
hurtful. We have dozens of verbal tactics for hurting each other dismissively. How can we recognize them?
- Pariah Professions: II
- In some organizations entire professions are regarded as pariahs — outsiders. They're expected
to perform functions that the organization does need, but their relationships with others in the organization
are strained at best. When pariahdom is tolerated, organizational performance suffers.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.