Every member of a team has a big stake in the success of team discussions. Open-minded, non-antagonistic meetings are way more likely to move the ball forward than sessions where people spend most of their time defending their positions or, worse, attacking those of others.
Needless to say, knowing how the team should behave is a lot easier than actually getting every team member to behave that way. But if you believe your team could be more productive than it is, and think your meetings don’t always promote maximum productivity, you may find it useful to consider a formula for building what’s known as “conversational capacity.”
Flight or fight
That idea comes from leadership development consultant Craig Weber. Weber suggests that the “flight or fight” response in human nature often impedes meaningful conversations about disputed ideas, especially when there’s time or financial pressure on the team. We tend either to shut down, or to defend our positions combatively, spurring equally combative responses in others.
Weber also suggests that there’s a relatively simple path out of this kind of unproductive argumentativeness. Not that it’s simple to follow; but it is simple to sketch out.
In his book, “Conversational Capacity: The Secret to Building Successful Teams That Perform When the Pressure Is On,” Weber says team members need to learn to participate in two contrasting but complementary ways: pushing and pulling. Train your team members on these techniques and you’ll get more productive conversations, Weber says.
Candor and curiosity
Pushing — laying out one’s own ideas — requires two skills that Weber calls “candor skills.” Train your team members to:
- Advocate their position. This means explaining it clearly and succinctly, not going on at great length.
- Illustrate their position by sharing the thinking behind it. This would include both the data on which the position is built, and the way they’ve interpreted the data.
Pulling — encouraging the participation of others in the discussion of ideas — also requires two skills, which Weber calls “curiosity skills.” Encourage team members to:
- Test their views. Seek out what may be missing in their own presentations by actively soliciting input and information that would invalidate their position.
- Inquire into others’ views. Explore the thinking of other team members, especially when they differ.
Using the critical skills
As we’ve already pointed out, knowing what these skills are is one thing; acquiring and deploying them is quite another.
Weber says that as you and your team practice these skills — which you should do at every meeting — you can use visual cues (like a simple diagram on a whiteboard), a monitor or facilitator (who tells you periodically how well the team is using the skills) and/or create a code of conversational conduct to keep discussions on the conversational rails.
So are you ready for more productive teamwork? Remember push and pull, candor and curiosity.
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