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
- 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.
- Teamwork Myths: Conflict
- For many teams, conflict is uncomfortable or threatening. It's so unpleasant so often that many believe
that all conflict is bad — that it must be avoided, stifled, or at least managed. This is a myth.
Conflict, in its constructive forms, is essential to high performance.
- Why Others Do What They Do
- If you're human, you make mistakes. A particularly expensive kind of mistake is guessing incorrectly
why others do what they do. Here are some of the ways we get this wrong.
- Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
- Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences.
Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding
of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.