Dear Meeting Guru,

"How do you get participants to talk about their problems/concerns with how the team is functioning?"

Frustated Meeter

Blessed Meeter,

Teams consist of a variety of individuals with different personalities, perspectives and experiences. Group dynamics are complicated and can make or break a team. This is why effective communication is vital to a team's health.

Encourage the group to discuss issues or conflict among themselves as they arise. If a conflict is left hanging and isn't addressed, it quickly becomes like a cancerous growth, spreading negativity among the group members. Sure enough, the involved parties will talk to other group members about the situation and, before you know it, team members will have chosen sides based on loyalties. The team is no longer united as one, but instead has been split into smaller teams that are now pitted against one another.

Working effectively in a team means having good communication skills and making an attempt to understand other people's points of view. It's about working together to find the best solution for the project or the organization. It's not about my ideas versus your ideas or who deserves credit for what. Rewarding the team rather than individuals within the group will help.

To encourage teammates to discuss problems or concerns within the group, consider holding a meeting to discuss how the team could do things better. Ask team members to come to the meeting with three things they think would help improve the team. Also encourage them to think of three things the team currently does well. In the meeting, discuss the team members' points and decide, as a group, what can be done to improve. The purpose of the meeting isn't simply to discuss the problems, but to find solutions as a group and to make the team function better. Don't leave the meeting without a clear plan of action for what needs to be done once the meeting is adjourned.

During this meeting, the team should also define the group's purpose or objective and create a list of behavioral ground rules. Write these rules on a poster and hang it somewhere where all the team members will see it. Letting the teammates create their own ground rules helps them feel like they're in control of their destinies and also empowers them.

If you find that during this meeting, people aren't willing to open up verbally, encourage them to write their anonymous comments about the team. Collect the papers and read each one aloud – this should help spark some conversation. Ask the group if they have any ideas on how the team could be improved. Be sure to focus the conversation on the future, not what's happened in the past. This is a waste of time, won't improve the group and only brings up hard feelings from the past.

As the wise philosopher Confucius once said, "People are similar by nature, but through habituation become quite different from each other." In other words, our basic desires are similar regardless of our personalities. Making an emotional connection with others and belonging to a group are among these basic desires. However, many individuals don't know how to do this. By encouraging the team to open up and communicate with one another, you're helping them get started in the right direction.

Until next time…may good meeting karma always be with you!




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