How to Keep Difficult Team Meetings On Track

BY Kathy Crosett
Featured image for “How to Keep Difficult Team Meetings On Track”

Have we gone too far in building a culture of niceness at work? If you’ve recently led an ideation session that yielded poor results, you might agree that being too nice is leading your organization to a dead end. Shane Snow, author of Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart, argues that productive conversations should involve some conflict. Setting ground rules for meeting conversations that include conflict will help you lead your team to success.

In some companies, employees are accustomed to arguing every point. And some of those employees feel so strongly about their opinions they refuse to listen to anyone else. In other companies, employees sit silently, afraid to offer any suggestions in a group ideation session. Either outcome is unsatisfactory and is a poor reflection on management and culture.

Participant Equality

Snow points to our current members of Congress and their inability to get things done. Part of their constant arguing is what Snow calls ‘intellectual dishonesty.’ Simply put, people don’t always tell the complete truth. They tell enough of the truth to get their way. Maybe someone on your team is arguing loudly for extra funding for a new position. They’re telling everyone that only their department can successfully oversee the new project. Is that true or are they just empire building? 

If this kind of posturing starts happening in your meetings, remind everyone that you are all working toward the same goal. That goal could be the start of a new initiative or setting strategic direction for the company. The point is, everyone in the room has the same authority and responsibility to speak up without fear of being ridiculed or seen as being the manager’s favorite. Remind participants that there are no winners in this team gathering.

Intellectual Humility

Snow also reminds managers to stay humble. Don’t go into a planning or ideation session with the attitude that you know it all. Don’t give your team members the idea that you’re seeking rubber-​stamp approval. You don’t know everything. And when one of your team members makes a suggestion that you don’t quite grasp, don’t gloss over it. Ask questions. Show that you’re intrigued and interested in learning more. You can lead the discussion into new areas and perhaps find an unconventional solution to a problem.

Harnessing Emotions

Ideation and strategic planning sessions can cause people’s emotions to run high. If you’re not careful, department heads who feel threatened will distort the facts. People are likely to get emotional if they sense their jobs are on the line. A manager who holds a grudge about what happened years ago may bring up the incident to derail the current conversation and make themselves look better. When you sense that happening, guide the conversation back to the topic you want discussed. Remind participants to make their points using logic and facts, not emotions, and the debate will stay civil.

When meetings at work include discussion on difficult topics, managers must prepare. They should set the rules of engagement in advance. And they should remind participants that they’ve been included in the meeting because they can offer something of value.