“Wow, that was a good call, Scott. You managed to get agreement so fast!”
Or did he? Did the team agree or did he simply not notice the disagreement?
No body language cues.
No time allowed in the meeting to let everyone share their opinion.
No room for colliding different points of view…
Could it be that online meanings lend themselves to groupthink as opposed to independent thinking and optimal decision making? Worse: once this shut-down is over, might we have to revisit decisions that were made now because of the conditions in which they were made?
Worse: once this shut-down is over, might we have to revisit decisions that were made now because of the conditions in which they were made?
“What I’m noticing is that the smaller, ‘mundane’ decisions happen faster — which is good — it’s probably not so good that we are expediting the more complex ones,” said a Perth-based client.
“I think we are doing a lot of talking but I’m not sure we are actually progressing much; being productive,” he added.
“Maybe the problem is also alignment across teams; I am very in touch with my own team but am missing the fortuitous meetings you have in the corridor…” another went on to say.
What might be some simple measures we could take to avoid needing to come back round to revisit the decisions being made now? Here are a few thoughts from conversations this week:
- Firstly, get people visibly present and engaged. You know, the basics: phones off, cameras on (if bandwidth allows)…
- Welcome frustrations and emotion specific to this context and otherwise so that people think well and so that they feel they can voice their opinion in these strange online format.
- For bigger topics, if you are not going to do a full virtual round and give each person the time to share their view, consider the value of harvesting each person’s thinking prior to the meeting. Play it back if groupthink occurs. If you have time, you could also given each person a fixed time to present their point of view with no interruption. This has the advantage of forcing them to think about it prior and not simply react to other points of view.
…consider the value of harvesting each person’s thinking prior to the meeting
4. Break down inhibitions. Change the dynamic of the meeting with breakout or private rooms. Have them work in pairs to be more bold with their ideas and come back and debrief.
5. Invite difference of opinion. Conflict even. Make time for it. We are simply better with diversity and divergent opinion. If need be, use frameworks such as De Bono’s six thinking hats to force the team to consider different viewpoints. This, and many others, work perfectly well online.
6. If you sense you are getting a ‘dirty yes’ (you know that “Yeh…Nah type of yes that usually leads to the person seeking a ‘likeminded’ ally outside the meeting and then challenging the decision that was made) then instigate calls and check-ins with the people offline to check on any misalignment.
7. Simulate the accidental corridor encounters or proximity relationships as well as you can. One client said he ‘cold calls’ those he would usually bump into. However you proceed, reach out to people you would usually check in with for alignment beyond your direct team.
8. Finish meetings early to finalise action points and lock in decisions and insure that they are, in fact, progressed. If deemed useful, invite a subset to stay on.
9. Don’t assume. Full stop. Don’t assume people have agreed. Don’t assume people are aligned. Don’t assume people outside your conversation are across your decisions…
10. Capture the important stuff in writing & communicate well. Exceptionally well. Using all the modes of communication you have. Once again. Don’t assume people have heard what was said or what was intended.
Many of us will have online meetings well beyond this crisis. For the sake of time or resources wasted on a bad decision, it’s worth our while taking the time to get it right the first time.
Rachel is a facilitator of Systematic Inventive Thinking based in Melbourne. She is in the business of scanning for bias in ideas that can lead to wasted time and effort.