When controversy is in the air, or the group is large, the flow of discussion in meetings can become confused and tangled. Even when facilitators manage queues of contributors, separations between related contributions grow, threads proliferate, and people forget what they wanted to say as they are overtaken by events.
When the threads of discussion become tangled, the group's decision quality degrades. Reaching decisions becomes a long, painful process. How can we keep threads from tangling, or untangle them when they tangle?
- Use a parking lot
- Sometimes a collection of contributions isn't really essential to the current discussion. Or perhaps it's important, but missing information or absent staff prevent a definitive conclusion.
- Threads of this kind can be profitably deferred using a technique widely known as the parking lot. Deferring the topic by adding it to a parking lot, or issues list, clears the table, making way for the larger discussion to move forward more effectively.
- Identify questions masquerading as assertions
- One common source of controversy is the question masquerading as an assertion. Some contributions are assertions or conjectures that, although possibly correct, are nevertheless unproven. When controversy is in the air, these contributions tend to generate much energy but little light.
- By identifying statements that are actually open questions, the group can focus its discussion on resolving the questions, possibly at a later date, rather than endlessly circling around a loop of assertions and counter-assertions.
- Name and rank the threads
- Once a collection of contributions emerges as a thread, allowing it to continue as a part of the ongoing discussion creates a risk that it will tangle with other threads.
- By giving each thread a name, and setting priorities for each, the group or its facilitator can give focus to a single thread, temporarily setting others aside. This leads to a more orderly discussion.
- Maintain multiple queues
- Once you've named threads, and ranked them, arriving contributions can be queued independently for any threads that aren't currently under discussion. Maintain a separate queue for each thread.
- This scheme is more effective when participants make notes for themselves about the contributions they intend to make to threads that have been temporarily set aside.
- If a single thread, or a
collection of threads, becomes
complex enough, it merits
a discussion of its own
- Spin off independent discussions
- If a single thread, or a collection of threads, becomes complex enough, it merits a discussion of its own. To keep it as part of the discussion that spawned it entails risk of confusion.
- Make it an agenda item, at this meeting or at a future meeting. Accomplishing this might require deleting or postponing other items from the existing agenda.
Even these measures have limits. Large groups engaged in especially controversial conversations might have to break into smaller caucuses, in parallel or in series, to address the most contentious issues. Groups that can't agree on how to manage their discussions probably can't agree on much else. First in this series Top Next Issue
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
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?
- Express Your Appreciation and Trust
- Some people in your organization have done really outstanding work. You want to recognize that work,
but the budget is so small that anything you could do would be insulting. What can you do? Express your
Appreciation and Trust.
- You Can't Control What Other People Think
- Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think?
Maybe it would be. And maybe not...
- False Summits: I
- Mountaineers often experience "false summits," when just as they thought they were nearing
the summit, it turns out that there is much more climbing to do. So it is in project work.
- Heart with Mind
- We say people have "heart" when they continue to pursue a goal despite obstacles that would
discourage almost everyone. We say that people are stubborn when they continue to pursue a goal that
we regard as unachievable. What are our choices when achieving the goal is difficult?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- 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.