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:
- Handling Heat: I
- Heated exchanges in meetings are expensive to both the organizational mission and to the careers of
the meeting's participants. Preventing them — or dealing with them when they happen — is
everyone's job. But what can you do when they persist?
- Face-Off Negotiations
- In difficult face-to-face negotiations — or any face-to-face negotiations — seating arrangements
do matter. Here's an exploration of one common seating pattern.
- Unresponsive Suppliers: III
- When suppliers have a customer orientation, we can usually depend on them. But government suppliers
are a special case.
- 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.
- Conversation Irritants: II
- Workplace conversation is difficult enough, because of stress, time pressure, and the complexity of
our discussions. But it's even more vexing when people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous.
Here's Part II of a small collection of their techniques.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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