Handling Group Dynamics

"Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything” JK Gailbraith Economist

Meetings can be notorious time wasters. This doesn’t mean that the team is incompetent or that the topics are unimportant. What it sometimes comes down to is the group dynamic. Even the most effective meeting organisers may be so focused on the technical aspects of the agenda that they forget to prepare to handle the group dynamic. Here are a few tips and reminders to help set the right tone and manage the discussion.

The Opening Question

Consider changing the way you start a meeting with your team. Instead of going straight to the first item on the agenda - which is usually an update or the minutes of the previous meeting - kick off with something that surprises people, yet gets things moving in the right direction. Make a conscious effort to set the tone, examine the key purpose and stimulate creativity. Present your opening question in a way that encourages discussion, requires people to think a bit and expect answers. Of course, consider the context of the meeting but you might ask something like “How can we increase sales by 10 percent in the next three months without increasing costs?”

Multiple Points of View

Meetings are not just a forum to share information or give individuals a platform to express their views. They should be used to prompt clearer or broader thinking and enhance problem solving. During a meeting, try to get the participants to comment and build on what others have to say. Draw everyone into the discussion by asking whether they have anything to add or if they have an alternative way of seeing things. By this approach, you will be sure to get a better range of ideas and more analytical thinking. The results will be more insightful and will build consensus and commitment at the same time.

Discussion Techniques

You can use three basic styles when chairing a meeting: free fall, directive and semi-directive.

The free fall style lets participants set the agenda and the discussion evolves as different issues are raised. This style works best when the participants can work without being directed, when the tone is deliberately informal and when there is no specific time limit or outcome needed.

The directive style sets out a clear agenda and definite objectives. This is appropriate when the participants expect to be driven, if time is tight or if the outcomes is of utmost importance. Usually, a leader who knows more about the subject than the other participants will adopt this approach.

The semi-directive style allows for a high degree of flexibility. Use this especially when the issues are not clear, participants need things explained along the way or if you really want to inspire new ways of thinking about specific problems. Most meetings fall into the semi-directive category but conclude in a directive style to ensure everyone is clear about the next steps.

With some preparation around dynamics of the group, and use of the best discussion technique for the situation, a meeting organiser can do a lot to make the most of their meeting time. This so can also help avoid the ever-common questions followed by long silences, or off-track group discussion dominated by a few of the most expressive team members.