In discussions at meetings, we make contributions. We can classify them according to their degrees of openness. For example, a relatively closed contribution is an announcement that our Monday meeting will be on Tuesday because elevator D in the Tower is off line for maintenance. This contribution is mostly factual, and although we might need to address its consequences, it's presented as if we do not. Closed contributions indicate no path forward to deliberations. They might even indicate, as above, that no further discussion is needed. A closed contribution by itself doesn't invite discussion.
By contrast, an open contribution suggests that something is unresolved. The group can then choose whether or when to discuss it. Open contributions transfer control of the discussion to the group.
Any contribution made at the right time, to the right group, with an appropriate degree of openness, can be valuable. Any contribution made at the wrong time or to the wrong group can create problems. Also troublesome are contributions that have inappropriate degrees of openness, independent of timing or choice of audience.
When we make open contributions about issues that don't need discussion, we risk wasting time. Because this problem is so obvious, I won't deal with it here. The more subtle problems arise when we make closed contributions about matters that do need discussion. Here are some tips for encouraging open contributions.
- Enrich existing threads
- One example of extending or re-opening an existing discussion thread is expanding on a point previously made. Enrich the thread by showing how it leads in intriguing directions, or pose a novel question about it, or ask for clarification.
- Support open contributions of others, or open them
- When someone else offers an open contribution, support it. Pursue any leads it suggests, or ask the contributor to "say more." Using these tactics for contributions that are inappropriately closed encourages their contributors to restate their contributions in more open forms.
- Propose open contribution generators
- An open Problems arise when we
make closed contributions
about matters that
do need discussioncontribution generator is a comment, question, or exercise that generates open contributions. For example, a contributor can ask, "If we had an answer to Question Q, what new solutions to Problem P would become available?" Or, "If we had a solution to Problem P, what would we have done to get it?"
- Propose generator generators
- A generator of open contribution generators is a contribution that suggests that the group focus on generating more open contributions. For example, for groups unaware of the distinction between open and closed contributions, a proposal to discuss that distinction could be a generator, while a proposal to survey types of contributions that generate open contributions could be a generator generator.
Finally, differences in personal preferences for cognitive closure can lead to differences in the degree of openness of contributions. What can you do to encourage openness of your own contributions? Or the contributions of others? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
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- Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting
chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little
catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- Blind Agendas
- Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants
can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II
- Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources
are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
- Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: II
- When we interrupt a meeting to recap the action so far for a late-arriving attendee, the cost of the
recap itself is just the beginning. There are some less-obvious costs that can be even greater.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: 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. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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