1. Encourage Better Communication
Robust discussion doesn’t happen automatically among members of a team. It has to start with the boss. Are you willing to put issues on the table and engage in frankness and straightforwardness? If you aren’t it’s unlikely that you’ll encourage it, yet a high level of candor is critical to your team’s creative problem solving. Too often bosses make harmony their goal
2. Set the Agenda and Have a Timekeeper Help Everyone Stick To It
Each person on the team should have a chance to submit items for the team’s agenda, but this needs to be done ahead of time. If it is your meeting, usually your assistant will take responsibility for emailing the team members to solicit agenda items. A deadline for this is critical. With rare exceptions, if the item isn’t submitted by the deadline, usually the day before the meeting, it goes on the agenda for the next meeting. Once you see the kinds of things team members want to discuss, you can allocate time for that issue.
3. Assign a Process Checker
One of the problems in meetings is individual members tend to be too talkative or too quiet. Neither extreme is good for the team; therefore, the process checker is a member whose job is to comment on how much or how little people are talking.
4. Utilize the Parking Lot
In its simplest terms, the parking lot is a flip chart that is taped to some part of the room away from the other flip charts, Power Point screen, and other central parts of the meeting room. When a topic comes up that is not on the agenda, the process checker or person who brought it up writes it on the parking lot page. Often you will need to suggest that the person write it there because people usually like to discuss their issues as soon as they think of them. However, this moves the group off the tasks of the day and siphons energy that is needed for the current concern. Establishing the parking lot does two things. First, it captures the problems and questions so they are not forgotten. Second, it communicates an eagerness to hear the ideas and opinions of each member at the appropriate time.
5. Have the Boss Speak Last
As the boss, the surest way to encourage groupthink and currying favor is to let people know what you want them to say. Then, wasting no time, each team member will take a turn being the echo, telling you exactly what you want to hear. As harmonious as this seems, it is not the reason for a meeting, and it’s not the best way to solve problems.
Instead, if you make one of the Rules of Engagement be that you will speak last, team members will learn that you don’t intend to voice an opinion until they have exhausted their ideas and opinions.
6. Start and End on Time
As self-evident as this idea is, you’d be surprised how seldom it is followed. Frequently the group waits for one or two stragglers. Then, because of a late start, the meeting runs over the allotted time. Both build resentment.