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:
- Double Your Downsizing Damage
- Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing.
If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance
of your company's downsizers.
- Coping and Hard Lessons
- Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated
mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required
to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.
- Teamwork Myths: I vs. We
- In high performance teams, cooperative behavior is a given. But in the experience of many, truly cooperative
behavior is so rare that they believe that something fundamental is at work — that cooperative
behavior requires surrendering the self, which most people are unwilling to do. It's another teamwork myth.
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: II
- Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules.
And that's where the trouble begins. We remember them too easily and we apply them too liberally. Here's
Part II of a collection of often-misapplied words of wisdom.
- Team Risks
- Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are
some risks worth mitigating.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 23: Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
- And on October 30: Power Distance and Risk
- Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk. Available here and by RSS on October 30.
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, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- 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.