Word Count: 727
Reading Time: About 3 minutes
Welcome to the leader’s dilemma: Staying open to input without dying from all those tiny cuts.
+ + + + +
Leader: “It’s time to plan the annual Christmas party. Where would you like to go?”
Staff 1: “Can we really afford to do this?’
Staff 1: “I want to have a Hawaiian theme this year.”
Staff 4: “I don’t have any Hawaiian shirts.”
Staff 2: “I don’t like Hawaiian food.”
Staff 3: “I love the music though.”
Staff 5: “If we’re going to do a Christmas party, I want to veto country-western music.”
Staff 6: “Can we have a dunk tank?”
Staff 7: “I want to bring my family this year.”
Staff 2 to leader: “We’re discussing the Christmas party and you’re looking at your Blackberry.”
Leader: “Sorry about that. Have you decided where you want to go?”
+ + + + +
Is it any wonder the leader reaches for her Blackberry as soon as she can? She opens a conversation, knowing she needs input. But the conversation like being stabbed with 1000 tiny knives: an irrelevant comment, a complaint, a suggestion from left field, everybody has their agenda to advance. It’s no surprise that an open discussion goes this badly: Groups don’t do well with so little structure, and leaders are exhausted by the amount of complaining they are subjected to.
The surprising thing is that this despair-inducing volley continues to play out in meeting after meeting when there are much more effective choices.
Let’s replay this with a more skillful approach from both the whine-resistant leader and the complaining staff.
+ + + + +
Leader: “It’s time to plan the annual Christmas party. Is everybody willing to spend the next 20 minutes agreeing on a venue an approach?
Staff 1: “I can spend 20 mins on this, but no more. Let’s go.”
Staff 2: Me too.”
Staff 3-6: <head nods>
Leader: “Staff 1, can you watch the time for us? Thanks. Let’s start by looking at the plus-delta list from last year:
- The DJ was very popular
- The food was great
- The location was convenient
- Can we bring spouses?
- The music was too loud
- Can it be shorter?
- Can we skip the speeches?
Leader: “Can someone summarize the themes for us?”
Staff 3: “A speech-free dinner with our spouses and some eclectic, quiet music. Good food in an easy-to-get-to location.”
Staff 2: “I also hear we shouldn’t structure it and we should keep it short.”
Leader: “What else?”
Leader: “Do you want to add anything to the list for this year?”
Staff 5: “Can we go back to the same place? The food was fantastic!”
Leader: “Here’s the trade-off: If we include spouses, we’ll need to go someplace less expensive. How shall we decide which is most important?”
Staff 1: “That’s a tough one.”
Staff 6: “Can we ask employees to pay for their spouses dinner, or drinks, or something to defray the expense of bringing a spouse? I’d hate to penalize single employees by going to a lesser restaurant.”
Staff 1: “We’re at 15 minutes.”
Staff 4: “How about we ask for some hard numbers so we can make an informed decision? How many spouses would be coming, what is the cost per person, what was the alcohol tab from last year.”
Staff 3: “How much would we save at a less expensive restaurant.”
Staff 5: “I like that approach.”
Leader: “Excellent. I’ll ask Admin 1 to get this for to us for next week’s meeting. Thanks everyone.”
Staff 1: “18 minutes.”
Leader: “Thanks, Staff 1. Well done, team.”
+ + + + +
Staff: You don’t have to fawn over your leader. Just help them get their decisions made. Help them help you.
Leaders: You don’t have to let every discussion go free. You don’t have to let any of them go free. Using a meeting process like plus-delta, starting a conversation with brief, relevant data, asking for help, and keeping your group tightly focused on achieving a result are all welcome.
And here’s a tip for both staff and leaders:
When every option is met with an objection or criticism, it sucks the energy from the room. Instead, ask each objector for a suggestion.
Even better, make “If you oppose, you must propose” a standing ground rule, and watch your leader put away that Blackberry.