Without productive conflict, decisions always get revisited…over and over again.
It’s often unspoken. What team members really want most is to end the meeting and get back to their real work. So what do they do? They nod their heads in agreement so that the conversation can just move on and the meeting ends. It’s a symptom of a team that doesn’t have clarity of purpose and isn’t focused on the right topics.
Unfortunately, what comes next is the dreaded meeting after the meeting.
Decisions get revisited over and over again, demonstrating a true lack of commitment.
I get it. It’s not their fault. People are busy. They rush from meeting to meeting. Sometimes an entire day is consumed by others’ priorities. And, as a result, people come to their meetings unprepared to engage in meaningful dialogue.
But the consequences of that reactive state are often overlooked. Teams miss out on one of the most important aspect of their jobs: to collaborate so that they can solve some of the most important and consequential challenges in a business.
On teams that are healthy and aligned, people see (the right) meetings as integral to the real work. And they show up in a different way. They show up prepared, engaged and ready to participate in healthy debate.
However, it often feels like such meetings and the resulting discussions take longer. And that’s because they do. They are meatier, more meaningful. But in the end, those teams make decisions faster and are more creative and innovative. Productive conflict is center stage because healthy teams know that without it, people won’t be committed. They won’t buy into any of the decisions or overall direction.
And the dreaded meeting after the meeting will occur.
A Culture of Nice Never Works
In my last post, I talked about the derailing tendency of the culture of nice. Organizations that foster a culture of nice lose what they need most. They lose the direct, honest and respectful conversations that have consequential impact. People lack clarity of expectations and strategic direction. Teams drown in uncertainty and take longer to make decisions.
There’s always a connection between a culture of nice and poor business performance (and the number of meetings after the meeting).
Instead, try a culture of candor. It will help you reduce the volume of those meetings after the meeting.
How to Avoid the Meeting-After-the-Meeting Phenomenon
STEP 1: Get the right people in the right roles. Sometimes you can coach people up. Other times you can’t. If a person isn’t competent in his or her role and unable (or unwilling) to be coached, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend trying to build trust and cohesion. Others on the team will never trust that person to do their job.
STEP 2: Create clear expectations for team members. You can do this by making sure team members understand organizational values, how those values relate to their role, and what is expected of them in team meetings. You can also collaboratively create conflict norms. These are the dos and don’ts of how people engage in conflict so that you get the most productive outcomes. It’s normal for team members to have different approaches to conflict. Everyone has different backgrounds, cultural influences and personalities. The trick is finding a path to productive conflict that works for everyone.
STEP 3: Develop vulnerability-based trust. Patrick Lencioni describes this in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Building trust and cohesion are also both central to my People-First Leadership Model, laid out in my first book Ignite! The 4 Essential Rules for Emerging Leaders. Vulnerability-based trust is when team members know that what is said during meetings won’t be used against them. What does that sound like? Statements such as “I don’t know,” “I made a mistake,” “I need some help,” or “I’m sorry I said that—it was inappropriate.” It enables people and teams to be open and vulnerable about what’s really going on with a project or plan. People will take more risks. They will speak up sooner and engage more readily knowing that their team members (and leaders) will give the benefit of a doubt. And it all starts with the leaders setting the example for a culture of candor.
STEP 4: Continue to do the work. Like any relationship with a partner, spouse or friend, a relationship goes stale when it isn’t consistently maintained and cultivated. Sometimes those stale relationships end up in divorces, breakups or breakdowns. The same is true for teams. Creating a healthy and aligned team environment where conversations are direct, honest and respectful takes continued work. New team members come on board, old team members leave. Dynamics change and the culture of candor needs to be regularly reinforced.
Get Your Productive Conflict Resources Here
The intent of our Productive Conflict Series is to help you make the fourth quarter of this year better than the first three!
If you haven't done so already, check out these resources below to help you and your team get started.
- Productive Conflict Toolkit: Download our in-depth, 11-page Productive Conflict Toolkit to reflect on questions that help you explore and identify your own conflict style and how that impacts your teams and organization.
- Productive Conflict Masterclass: Access the recorded masterclass From Destructive to Productive Conflict. Direct from our executive coaching team, this 60-minute masterclass offers actionable tools to enable you and your team to see elements of conflict that you may not see right now and to assess their impact on team dynamics.
- Productive Conflict Workshop: Beyond a Culture of Nice. Interested in a more guided approach with your team? Check out our half-day workshop to help you create a culture of candor...faster.