Your team meets to discuss an important topic or question. One person comments, another person adds another comment that may or may not support the first comment. Then a naysayer chimes in and says, “We can’t do that!” and then takes the conversation in a different direction. There appears to be no rhyme or reason and the team usually settles on the idea with the most agreement (the majority) or the loudest voice in the room. And it could happen that the best idea(s) got lost in the discussion.
I call this the “feeding frenzy” when the team just starts talking, plopping and piling on random ideas.
I was observing a client who was discussing the possibility of partnering with another company. They had identified six potential partners – and that’s where the feeding frenzy began. Two people lobbied for one partner because they had experience with them, someone had a bad experience with different partner, another person commented on the credentials of completely different partner, and so the conversation went. The two people who had great relationships with the owners seemed to “win” the discussion.
I couldn’t take it any more. So I hopped up out of my chair and said, “Before we select this company as our partner, let’s step back and identify the key criteria, and then go through each potential partner and discuss what’s good about partnering with them, and what would not be so great.”
We went through this process and sure enough, the company they were going to partner with was not a desirable as another company that didn’t even hit the radar screen in the feeding frenzy.
The lack of integrating good ideas into the conversation is technically called “process loss.” Which is a great name because there wasn’t a process for discussion.
To prevent a feeding frenzy follow these three steps:
- Tee up the topic. Be clear about what the topic you want to discuss or the question to be answered.
- Clarify the process you will use. Typically, you’ll want to get all the ideas out on the proverbial table without any criticism or evaluation. Feel free to build on each others’ ideas. Once all the ideas have been explored, then evaluate the ideas in order to create a path forward. (I call this approach “serving up a sandwich” )
- Follow the process. Once you get agreement on the process, then follow it. Assign a “process observer” or “facilitator” to make sure your team stays focused and on track.
Not only do you need someone to ensure the process runs smoothly, but you need to actually assign someone that is not afraid to jump in and interrupt when they recognize a feeding frenzy is about to form in your meeting, and kick off the three steps above.
Sure, it takes a bit more time, but the quality of the discussion and the decisions are well worth the investment. Not to mention your employees may be more satisfied knowing that their ideas have been heard. What are some ways you fight the feeding frenzy at your office?
Kristin Arnold is a professional meeting facilitator and international speaker who is passionate about teamwork. The Extraordinary Team’s approach to building high performance teams combines consulting, coaching, training and process facilitation within the context of working real issues. You can read more of her work in one of her books Team Basics, Email Basics, Team Energizers, or Boring to Bravo.
Photo source: Design Pickle