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Volume 24, Issue 14;   April 3, 2024: Recapping Factioned Meetings

Recapping Factioned Meetings


A factioned meeting is one in which participants identify more closely with their factions, rather than with the meeting as a whole. Agreements reached in such meetings are at risk of instability as participants maneuver for advantage after the meeting.
A meeting in a typical conference room

A meeting in a typical conference room. The oblong shape of the table tends to cause participants in a factioned meeting to sit on opposite sides of the table, intensifying their allegiance to their respective factions. A less linear and more circular or even square-ish table would make for a more effective meeting.

Image by Christina Morillo, courtesy Pexels.com.

In "Recapping One-on-One Meetings," Point Lookout for August 9, 2023, I described a practice that can make agreements reached between two people more effective and durable. Immediately after the meeting, recapping the agreements in an email message from one party to the other clarifies the points of agreement. More than that, it serves as a future reference, and it can be a basis for future negotiation if either party later recognizes a need to amend the agreement.

The practice A factioned team is one in which
the participants identify not with
the team as a whole, but with
factions within the team
of recapping agreements can also be helpful after small, focused meetings of more than two people, especially when the meeting is what I call "factioned." Since the term factioned meeting isn't standard, let me first explain what I mean by it, and then describe the practice of recapping factioned meetings.

Factioned meetings defined

A factioned meeting almost always results when a factioned team comes together for a meeting. A factioned team is one in which the participants identify not with the team as a whole, but with factions within the team. For example, consider a group of hardware engineers and software engineers who are developing a control panel for a new washing machine. The control panel consists of both hardware and software components. Suppose that the members of the software team consider their first allegiance to be the software team, and the members of the hardware team, likewise, consider their first allegiance to be the hardware team. So no member of either team considers their first allegiance to be the Control Panel Design Team. When the Control Panel Design Team meets to search for solutions to shared problems, the meeting is factioned, because the team is factioned.

Factioned teams need not be divided along technological lines. Cleavages can occur across sites, professions, and positions in the org chart. For the present, though, I'm considering only those factioned meetings that satisfy two constraints. The first constraint is that there are only two factions, and no neutral parties. This simplifies the exploration with little loss, because although more complicated situations do exist, they're less common. The second constraint is that the two factions are more or less equal in political power. When one faction is significantly more powerful than the other, their interaction is more accurately described as a transmission of commands followed by acknowledgment, rather than a negotiation of an agreement.

With those two constraints in mind, whatever agreements a factioned meeting might reach are at some risk of instability after the meeting, as members of the factions maneuver for advantage. It is this source of instability that recap messages can address.

Recap messages for factioned meetings

A recap message is a message sent by one faction to the other following a meeting in which they reached an agreement. It summarizes the terms of the agreement. Recap messages can more effectively stabilize agreements if their authors follow four simple guidelines.

Act quickly
Distribute the recap message as soon as possible after the meeting, while the details of the agreements are still fresh in the minds of all participants. As time elapses after the meeting, due to phenomena like the Mandela Effect [Dagnall 2018] and others, recollections of what was agreed can morph towards more preferable agreements, and away from the actual agreements.
Compose the recap message jointly
If the gulf between the factions is deep and wide enough, any recap messaging can entail a risk of exacerbating the division. To manage this risk, delegate the task of composing the message to just two people, one from each faction, to compose the recap message jointly.
Treat compound agreements with care
A compound agreement is a package of actions that each faction agrees to execute. The factions agree to two elements. First, they agree to execute all actions in the package assigned to them. Second they agree that any amendment to any element of the package triggers a renegotiation of the package. The renegotiation protects the parties from unanticipated consequences of change, and it therefore enables everyone to relax a bit.
Manage previous recap messages
As time passes and events unfold, any recap message can potentially be overtaken by those events. Whenever the parties meet, they would do well to review past agreements and reconfirm, revise, or retire previous recap messages.

Last words

In whatever way you compose the recap message, it's most important that everyone involved in either faction have an opportunity to review the recap message. You might not want to seek approval by consensus, but if everyone has a chance to review the message, any errors of recollection are likely to be discovered. Go to top Top  Next issue: Managing Dunning-Kruger Risk  Next Issue

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Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Dagnall 2018]
Neil Dagnall and Ken Drinkwater. "The Mandela effect: Explaining the science behind false memories," The Independent, February 14, 2018. Archived from the original. Available here. Retrieved 14 February 2024. Back

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See also Effective Meetings and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

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Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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As the saying goes, "You can't delegate your own accountability." Despite wide knowledge of this aphorism, people try it from time to time, especially when overcome by the temptation of a high-risk decision. What can you delegate, and how can you do it? Available here and by RSS on July 10.

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