Q: I have been in meetings where top managers push for their way while not meeting the project's needs. There is no senior leadership to squelch this behaviour. I try to push for centralized business objectives. Is this a good idea or do I risk offending my peers?
A: Identifying overarching objectives to use in evaluating the options is a good idea. However, you may find that in the heat of the meeting, there is little tolerance for rational decision making. You may want to get agreement about how decisions are made (including decision rights using RACI or a similar framework) and the decision process before working through the issue at hand.
Q: You mention the withholding of true opinions as an issue in meetings. How can a leader get others to voice their real thoughts in front of the group?
A: Understand that some people need time to process information before coming to a conclusion. If possible, schedule the discussion and decision-making meetings separately or distribute review material in advance. Consider assigning a devil's advocate to play the contrarian. It's a great role to assign to those who are quiet but see things in a different light. Make it easy for people by asking questions that make it safe for them to share their views (for example, "What are we missing?"). Give them time to respond. Finally, institute a cultural norm that "silence is concurrence" to encourage people to go on record, and "debate and unite" to reinforce the importance of active debate and united action.
Q: We hold meetings via teleconference. How can we improve our decision making?
A: Well-defined decision rights and processes are needed when working at a distance. Agree with the team on how decisions will be made. For complex decisions, a decision facilitator can ensure the right level of fact-finding and discussion using e-mail chains and blogs before a meeting. A Web conference tool can ensure discussions are moderated and differences resolved quickly.
Susan Cramm is founder and president of Valuedance, an executive coaching firm in San Clemente, California. You can e-mail feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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