Should Conference Room “A” be the Company Boxing Ring?

BY Kathy Crosett
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People don’t like to think of themselves as cogs in machines. But managers know well that an effectively functioning team can make a huge difference to the bottom line.  On the other hand, a dysfunctional team that can’t find a way to work together slows down the work process and inevitably, the bottom line takes a hit. One recent study pegged ‘squandered’ work time at a cost of $15.5 million for the average large company.

Leigh Thompson at the Kellogg School and Tanya Menon at The Ohio State University have studied the various kinds of people issues that plague managers. In any company, managers must balance the need for everyone to participate as team members with the need to suss out the expertise of the individual who has genius credentials to solve the problem at hand.

Most good training programs encourage employees to support the company’s leaders and do as they’re told. When asked for their opinions, these same employees will tell the bosses what they think they want to hear. These situations demonstrate squandered work time – employees sitting in meetings with no intention of saying what they think, even if they know with certainty that the manager is making a bad decision which will cost the company money.

To minimize these wasteful encounters, “Thompson and Menon recommend establishing ‘boxing rings.’” They're talking about setting up places where you and your team members can get real. As a manager, you have to make your people feel comfortable about voicing their opinions. They may not speak up if you hold a ‘truth-​telling’ session in the same space and at the same time you usually hold your weekly team meetings. In those kinds of meetings, team members like to sit in the same seats, and play the same roles – primarily, supporting and encouraging you. And, you're probably seated at the head of table.

In a 'truth-​telling' session, you want people to be off-​guard. You want them to play roles they're not accustomed to. If you can afford the space, consider reserving a room just for ‘authentic’ conversations. Another option would be to take your group offsite for these types of meetings. Remember to praise team members who think outside the box and don't retaliate when someone says something you don't want to hear. Over time, the 'squandered' time expense in your department should drop.