Written with Kristine MacKain, Ph.D
Have you ever been around people who, in meetings, seem to talk endlessly about an issue, then walk away without resolving the problem or acting decisively? Frustrating? Yes. Productive? No.
We have to assume that people want to solve problems—after all, that’s why they are at the meeting. So why is it that people stall and how can a leader change the direction of such a group?
When Talking Replaces Doing
Sometimes talking about an issue is a substitute for doing something about it. Why?
1. The meeting has no clear agenda, focus, and/or stated deliverable. As a result, people “chew the fat” and the meeting is a terrible waste of everyone’s time.
2. The group is not asking the right questions. For instance, the discussion is focused on a new customer’s expressed need for a new technology that your company has not yet produced. The group, responding anxiously to the challenge, may ask, “What are our competitors doing in this area?” when a better question would be: “What is our customer’s real need and how can we find out?”
3. The key stakeholders are not present in the meeting. As a result, people don’t feel empowered to make a decision.
4. Key members of the group have already decided on a course of action. In this instance, there is an illusion of collaboration but, in fact, the decision makers are letting the group talk while they wait for them to eventually rubber stamp the decision.
5. The group is part of a risk-averse culture. In this case, members are not willing to commit to action for fear of being blamed if the effort fails.
Talk followed by Decisive Action – Becoming a Decisive Leader
The ‘”talk too much” culture often stems from a failure in leadership. The manager/executive can turn this around by:
1. Deciding on an agenda and distributing it before the meeting. Address important questions and empower the group to act.
2. Insuring that key stakeholders are either present or represented in the meeting.
3. Giving each member of the group different degrees of responsibility and ownership for the outcome.
4. Clarifying, changing, or asking better questions to maintain focus and get the job done.
5. Prioritizing and assigning action items to individual members.
6. Conducting a thorough root cause analysis, if appropriate, before discussing strategy or action plan and challenging assumptions or accepted wisdom.
These suggestions may sound very familiar as they form the basics of effective meetings. But too often we fail to implement them, resulting in meetings that are a waste of everyone’s time. If you find yourself leading a meeting where talking is replacing doing, it’s time to ask yourself, “Why?”
Have you ever thought “this meeting is a complete waste of time”?
Any thoughts why?
Your comments are valued.
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