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 "What to Do About Organizational Procrastination" 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:
- Think Before You PowerPoint
- Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings
or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive
dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
- Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior
- When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming
the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational
- Logically Illogical
- Discussions in meetings and in written media can get long and complex. When a chain of reasoning gets
long enough, we sometimes make fundamental errors of logic, especially when we're under time pressure.
Here are just a few.
- What Enough to Do Is Like
- Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new
normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.
- Just-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
- Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops."
Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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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.