In a recent post, I explored the techniques of toxic disrupters — people who repeatedly disrupt meetings for reasons of their own. Whether by violating norms, demanding attention, messing with the agenda, or sowing distrust, or any other tactic, they manage to halt forward progress, or worse, to generate negative progress.
The temptation to eject them from the meeting can be difficult to resist. A preferable outcome would be to bring them into the fold — to guide them back to a productive role within the group. That's the basis of the approach I sketch in this post, which includes suggestions for a set of tactics that can bring about that result for a specific set of cases.
The cases The temptation to eject disrupters from the meeting
or the group can be difficult to resist. A preferable
outcome would be to bring them into the fold — to
guide them back to a productive role within the group.that respond to this approach include those I regard as well meaning. This class excludes those that might be said to involve saboteurs and coup plotters. The former are people whose objective is purely subversion of the group conducting the meetings. The latter are those who want to seize control of the group, or failing that, to subvert it. Because these cases are complex and rare, I'll address them in future posts.
For the present, my focus is the individual group member who intends to prevent the group from proceeding in the manner it has chosen, making progress towards the objective it has chosen. In what follows, I'll refer to the Disrupter as David (he/him) or Diane (she/her).
The core concept of the approach is to apply techniques that cause David/Diane to experience intense discouragement and frustration, because his/her tactics are utterly unproductive.
- Strengthen alliances
- As noted in that previous post, Diane might try to sow distrust among group members. Strengthening alliances can render this tactic of hers quite useless. Meetings of members of the alliances might be required.
- Revisit your group norms
- A set of norms for respectful discussion is a useful tool for controlling David. If your group hasn't established norms, you'll find it helpful. Examples that are especially useful are bans on interrupting others, deviating from the agenda, raising one's voice, and disparaging the character of others.
- Deploy a Norm Check protocol
- A "norm check" occurs when any member of the group feels that the discussion has led to a violation of one or more norms. That member can then call out "Norm Check" or another agreed-upon signal. At that point the discussion halts and the Chair interviews the person who called the check. After taking appropriate remedial action, the Chair restarts the discussion. This tactic can be an effective means of obtaining compliance with established norms.
- Delegate responsibility
- In meetings of size greater than five or six, it's beneficial to delegate to participants some of the work of running the meeting. Delegation can then also serve as a means of integrating Diane into the group. For example, appointing Diane to the office of Timekeeper can help to change her focus from disruption to process maintenance. Other roles that can also serve in this way are Facilitator, Designated Digression Detector, Scribe, and Parking Lot Valet.
Using these tactics is one approach to ending the disruptions David/Diane is creating. More important, this approach preserves the possibility of saving the relationship between the disrupter and the group. If at any point either the group or the disrupter determines that achieving that goal is so unlikely as to make investing in further efforts difficult to justify, terminating the effort is the best option. Until then, it's certainly worth a try. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Games for Meetings: II
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part II of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Working Lunches
- To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good
idea, but there are some hidden costs.
- Misleading Vividness
- Group decision making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid
examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
- Overtalking: III
- Overtalking other people is a practice that can be costly to organizations, even though it might confer
short-term benefits on the people who engage in it. If you find that you are one who overtalks others,
what can you do about it?
- How to Waste Time in Virtual Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings, and virtual meetings are at the top of most people's lists. Here's a
catalog of some of the worst practices.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
- And on October 11: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II
- Self-importance is one of four major themes of conversational narcissism. Knowing how to recognize the patterns of conversational narcissism is a fundamental skill needed for controlling it. Here are eight examples that emphasize self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 11.
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