Most teams solve problems, and that means working together in meetings. We meet in conference rooms, in hallways, at copiers, in cafeterias, at vending machines, by telephone, in virtual meeting spaces, on airplanes, and even washrooms (though washroom meetings are vastly over-rated). Working together, we can sometimes forget that we're all people, and that we have a common objective — solving the problem.
Here are nine guidelines that might help us all to remember that when we work together to solve problems, we are all still people.
- Assume that you still don't understand the problem
- You're more likely to be open to new ideas if you accept that your understanding is incomplete. At any point, it's safest to assume that some subtleties have escaped you. See "Problem Defining and Problem Solving," Point Lookout for August 3, 2005, for more.
- Nobody measures status accurately — including you
- How you look to others doesn't matter much, because the few who do keep score are mostly counting their own chips, not yours. They do compare themselves to how they see you, but you can't control how they see you. And your perception of your own status is probably way off, too.
- Waiting for permission or space to participate doesn't work. If you have a worthwhile contribution, make it available. But remember — no elbows. See ":wrapquotes" for more.
- Make space for everyone
- When teams engage, and some people tend to dominate, they deprive the team of access to the contributions of others. Take responsibility for making space for everyone. See "Plopping," Point Lookout for October 22, 2003, for more.
- Balance task and relationship
- Solving You're more likely to be open
to new ideas if you accept
that your understanding
is incompletethe problem by trashing relationships is failure. Preserving relationships at the expense of solving the problem is also failure. See "If You Weren't So Wrong So Often, I'd Agree with You," Point Lookout for May 8, 2002, for more.
- Give it a rest
- When we work too hard, we tire. We can lose our creative edge. We can hurt one another. To recover creativity and humanity, refresh yourselves. Take breaks. Work in a variety of formats. See "The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights," Point Lookout for January 25, 2006, for more.
- Increasing pressure eventually causes turbulence
- A calm river can handle only so much water. Beyond that, you get white water. A little pressure does help the team, but more leads to conflict, errors, turnover, stress diseases, divorces, and other bad stuff.
- Have special procedures for emergencies
- Usually, we have time for research, detailed discussion, and consensus decision making. In emergencies, we don't. Time works against us. Have special procedures for "condition red." See "Declaring Condition Red," Point Lookout for August 22, 2001, for more.
- Appreciate differences
- We're all different. We approach problems differently. We see things differently. Our differences ensure that we take all relevant factors into account, and that we try a variety of approaches to solving problems. Those differences are a source of great strength. See "Appreciate Differences," Point Lookout for March 14, 2001, for more.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Dangerous Phrases
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- Should We Do This?
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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