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Managing the meeting from hell! Facilitation Techniques for Managing Three Dysfunctional Personalities

Sherry couldn’t stop thinking about her last team meeting as she walked down the hall to her office. Closing her office door behind her, she let out an exasperated cry and reached for something, the knock! Her team was driving her absolutely crazy and she channeled Scarlett O’Hara as she proclaimed: “I will never run a meeting like that again!” In a nutshell, his problem boiled down to three really difficult personalities that kept repeating themselves on his team. These personalities were in fact a cancer that not only infected the team and its results, but also spread throughout the group and infected the other members of the team.

Sherry needs an antidote… now!

Here’s a little help for Sherry…and for you! Let’s explore these common dysfunctional personalities and how to manage them effectively.

– The Dominator

we have all experienced “the dominator” one way or another. Some people tend to dominate the discussion simply because they are excited and overzealous. These can actually be valuable team members if we can find appropriate approaches to harnessing and managing all that positive energy. Unfortunately, most of us are more familiar with the other type of dominator: the overly aggressive and intimidating personality who tramples on the comments of others and may try to hijack the meeting entirely! Sometimes these dominators are too negative (“That will never work here!”), and other times they just won’t let anyone else say a word. In any case, dominators can certainly damage not only the effectiveness of the meeting but also the morale of the team.

Techniques to effectively handle the dominator…

– Thank the dominator for their feedback and ask for feedback from others (eg. “Steven, that’s an interesting idea. Let’s see if others have suggestions as well.”)§

– Reiterate the dominator’s comment, write it in a visible way for all to see and then ask for other ideas to complete the list. (e.g “Steven, it sounds like you’re recommending that we use these three vendors as our short list…is that correct? That’s a great suggestion. Let’s compile a list of several suggestions, then discuss them all. We’ll list your suggestions as ‘A’s.” on the list. I’d like to get at least three other suggestions from the team. What do others think?”)

– Instead of the group verbally responding to a problem, ask them to take 2 minutes to write down their idea, problem or recommendations on a post. Then ask each person to share a comment they have written.

– Suggest to the group that they go round robin (go around the room asking each person to share a comment) and start at the opposite end of the table from the dominator (eg. “This is such an important topic that I want to make sure I’m getting everyone’s ideas. Let’s do a quick round robin starting with Jill…”)

– Call some people you haven’t heard from (eg. “Michael, what are your thoughts on this subject?”)

– Take a break and request the support of the offline dominator (“Steven, you’ve brought up several key points. I’m hoping some of the other team members will jump into the discussion to hear their ideas as well. Some group members aren’t as assertive, but I want to be sure we hear from them.”)

– Divide the group into pairs or triads and allow them to discuss a topic in those smaller groups before starting a large group discussion

– Agree with your team to use a physical object (for example, a soccer sponge) to balance the discussion. The person holding the soccer ball has the floor and must pass it to another person after he has made his point.

– The multitasking

More and more, we see more and more multitasking in our meetings. Aptly named, they are those whose attention is constantly shifting between the meeting leader and any number of other tempting distractions (eg PDA, laptop, reading material, etc.). In fact, multitasking is physically present but mentally elsewhere.

Techniques to effectively manage the MultiTasker…

– Bring the problem to the group during the first few meetings and decide as a group how you want to handle technological distractions…options may include

– Use a “tech mailbox” at the front of the meeting room and agree to drop it off before the start of the meeting

– Limit meeting time to one hour to ensure participants are not absent for too long

– Agree technological breaks of 15 minutes every hour

– Participants bring a friend to “cover” them in case they have to go out for a call.

– Use facilitation techniques that keep participants actively engaged

-All against all

– Active interrogation

– Affinity diagramming

– Work in subteams.

– Voting points

– Use a circular or U-shaped room setup that allows you to easily walk around (and close to) multiple participants fairly easily

– Agree on a light punishment for texting, emailing, etc. during the meeting…a group used a PDA bottle and any violator had to put up $5 per violation. (The money was later used for team lunches)

– The Hiker

The rambler can seriously derail a meeting with his tortuous, drawn-out, rambling comments. Often ramblings get lost in areas that bear little resemblance to the subject at hand. The rambler can not only significantly extend the duration of a meeting, but also completely alter the content of the meeting, thereby minimizing team efficiency. Y effectiveness.

Techniques to effectively manage the Rambler…

– Have a printed agenda (on a flipchart or whiteboard) in the room. When the conversation veers off topic, stand up and point to the specific item on the agenda to refocus the group.

– Include times for each section of the agenda so you can more easily focus the group on the allotted time for each discussion point. Possibly ask someone on the team to provide a 5-minute warning before the scheduled end time for each section of the agenda.

– Simply raise your hand and interrupt the discussion to ask if the conversation is on topic and helping the group reach their goal for the meeting. (“Guys, let me jump in for a moment to ask if the vendor discussion is relevant to this particular section of the agenda.”

– Introduce the Parking Lot at the beginning of the meeting and announce that you will break the discussion to place any off-topic talking points in the parking lot to help keep the group on track. (“Jill, I realize you’re really worried about the inventory control thing, but I’m wondering if we should try to figure that out now, or could we put it in the parking lot?”) Review all items in the parking lot at the end of the meeting and assign action items for each.

– Assign someone on the team to act as “bum cop” (wear a badge if applicable). This person is responsible for raising their hand whenever the discussion veers off topic.

– Consider using the ELMO technique. ELMO = “Everyone, let’s move on!” Whenever someone in the group feels that the group is rambling too much, they are expected to pick up the ELMO doll (in the center of the table).

Copyright 2009 Professional Matters, Inc.

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