One of the key functions of Leadership is the ability to effectively manage group discussions. When you open the discussion up to include others, you always risk going off subject and ending up in the middle of tangents. Some of that can actually be productive and some can be a total waste of time. Either way, the process of including others in brainstorming sessions can be very valuable. Learning how to validate everyone’s comments while keeping the discussion relevant and productive is key.
Here are 8 strategies for leading productive group discussions:
1. Utilize the “parking lot” technique. Whether you are using an electronic device, notepad, white board or a giant post-it note, designate a visual area to hold ideas that need to be considered but are not necessarily relevant to the current discussion. Anything said that will take you off-track, but should be explored at a later time, needs to go on the list. Validate the comment, then say let’s “parking lot” that for later. It’s a respectful way to mitigate the tangents and stay on track.
2. Establish the ground rules up-front. Consider including total time for the exercise, amount of time for responses, introduce the parking lot, identify objectives, etc.
3. Be sure to allow time for introverts to respond. They typically will not fight for airtime, as we discussed in last week’s post, like their extroverted teammates, so notice when they want to provide input and invite them to contribute. It’s a good idea to send the agenda ahead of time to give all people time to prepare and organize their thoughts.
4. Remember you might have the best idea in the room and…..you might not! Be open to both options.
5. Provide timelines if needed for circling back on outcomes. Make sure you close the loop on any item you thought was important enough to include. Your team needs to know how it ends.
6. Give recognition where it is warranted. If it wasn’t your original idea, give kudos to the person that deserves it. They will feel appreciated and that will ensure they continue to participate in the future. We have all had it happen…the “boss” is standing there talking about the great idea that YOU came up with. Don’t be that kind of leader. Nothing kills your effectiveness faster than taking the credit for someone else’s good idea! (Oh, thank you Marla for introducing me to the parking lot!)
7. When it is appropriate, explain why you chose the direction you chose. You are the one that is seeing the big picture (hopefully). Most of your team has a more narrow scope. Connect the dots for them when needed.
8. Know what you need to accomplish up front. Be clear about the outcomes you are seeking.
Leading group discussions is a huge part of leadership. Many of us fall into an extreme category of either being too collaborative or not asking anyone for feedback. Finding middle ground will lead to better outcomes and more engagement from your team. Two heads really are better than one….provided they are in sync.
Lisa Johnson On April 16, 2014 at 8:09 am
As I continue my career and life, I think of you often and the impact you had on me as mentor. You message needs to continue to reach open individuals, and continue to strengthen individuals core values. For that, my dear friend, I am extremely thankful. Your website is outstanding!
Tracy Spears On April 16, 2014 at 2:04 pm
Lisa…thank you so much for the very kind words!!
Sukki Reed On April 16, 2014 at 8:10 pm
This is something I found challenging during Team meetings. How do you acknowledge someones thoughts or input and keep on track. Thank you for the tips. I will implement the parking lot. What if it is the same person who tends to dominate the meeting, time and time again, how do you handle a person like that?
Tracy Spears On April 17, 2014 at 4:19 am
Sukki…the key is to establish the rules up front. Say…”If you see me start writing your comments in the “parking lot”, please take that as the sign we need to move on”. Also, talk to that person in private and ask them to be mindful of how their input sometimes hijacks the greater conversation. Bringing awareness to them might be all you need to do. Good luck!
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