Have you ever been in a meeting, when even before it started participants were sending out “signals” that made you think they were not going to fully collaborate? Perhaps the way the CEO was speaking in a patronizing fashion or a manager being rudely critical of others?
Sometimes just one person – or the very structure of an organization — can undo what might otherwise be a very successful sharing of collective intelligence. There are a number of classic collaboration busting behaviors that are easy to recognize and with some advance planning can sometimes be avoided or at least managed. In addition to making sure that planning has included the design thinking mindset, which is essential to understanding the bigger purpose of the collaboration, it’s important to remember the types of personalities that can sink it. They include the following types:
- Messenger killers attack those who present ideas they don’t like deterring others from being candid because the spirit of openness has been crushed.
One way to handle these types is to speak to them in advance of the meeting to prepare them for what might offend them. It doesn’t always work, of course, so another method is to present their view (assuming you know it) objectively in advance of their speaking.
- Active deceivers will try to steer the discussion in a certain direction by being selective about the truth or outright lying. They are more premeditated than the messenger killers and can be skillful in playing the crowd towards their point of view. If you can anticipate this behavior, rules will help. Sometimes Socratic questioning can help throw doubt on their position, or reveal their deception. Keep the discussion focused on what is relevant.
- Psychological warfare: This is not one, but a team of individuals with a specific goal of undermining your objective. Especially when people feel their “way of life” or something vital to them is being threatened, they may mobilize and set about creating an emotional disinformation campaign. Such people typically will not listen to logic. The only way to defuse them is either to keep them out of the collaboration or to “defrock” their arguments before they have a chance to make them themselves.
- Off-topic time wasters: Every group has a few. They are the bane of the meeting as they go on and on talking about things that are irrelevant to the project at hand. It’s helpful to pull these people aside ahead of the meeting and impress upon them how important it will be to stay on time and on topic. When time is really limited, cruder techniques such as using a timer, making it visible to the audience and the speaker, and giving people a limited amount of time to speak can help.
- Pontificators are people who get overly detailed and are overly impressed with their own importance. They are used to being given the podium. They can turn a 5 minute subject into a 20 minute thesis. It’s important to make it clear that everyone participating gets the same treatment and the same amount of time to speak (TED talks are a perfect example of this). The collaboration leader can set the tone at the beginning with rules or with a plea for respect for limited time.
- Macho-ness: There seems to be a basic need for certain people to periodically default to war and sports metaphors as a way to demonstrate their toughness. Toughness can be a good thing in the right circumstance, but a disaster in others. Macho displays are something a good leader can make seem uncool. A little self-deprecating humor or a reiteration of the goals can put the project back on track.