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To guide the discussion flow

Group discussions are like rivers. They have a tendency to take the path of least resistance and go in any direc­tion they please. That is probably the kind of discussion a group wants if they are gathered together socially, but it certainly is not the kind a team wants to have when they are trying to accomplish a specific task.

Teams need to make the best use of their time together, and that means keeping their discussions focused and to the point. The team depends on the leader to observe their discussions and intervene when nec­essary to help get them back on track. Often this kind of intervention by the leader is as simple as a reminder to the team that they are getting off the subject.

Other times it may require taking control of the meeting and using more extreme techniques to help redirect the team. The style of intervention or technique needed to help guide the discus­sion depends on the complexity of problem the team is having with their discussion.

Here are a few examples of common problems a team may experi­ence and some techniques a leader can use to intervene and guide the team back to working productively.

Observation: The discussion fluctuates from one topic to another. Some members are sharing ideas about why they believe something is going on, others are sharing what needs to be done to fix it, others share stories about related events. The discussion is all over the place and there is a lack of clear focus.

Intervention: Take charge of the meeting. Explain the need to re-focus back to working together on a single task. Describe where they are in the process and clarify what the task is and the method the team will use to accomplish it.

Observation: The discussion is going on and on with nothing be­ing resolved. The same points seem to be made over and over in differ­ent ways.

Intervention: Use a flip chart or white board to help the team visu­ally record where they are. Write all the ideas that have already sur­faced and ask if there are any new ideas to add to the list. When the team members see their ideas recorded, they will have no need to bring them up over and over. When all the team's ideas are generated, they can go on to the next part of the process.

Observation: Some members are not participating in the discus­sions.

Intervention: There are a number of techniques to help everyone become involved in the team's discussions. If the team's task is to gen­erate ideas, ask everyone to write down two or three ideas on a piece of paper, and then collect them.

These ideas can be recorded on a flip chart and be the first ideas used to start a brainstorming session. This helps include some members who are reluctant to give their ideas aloud. Some members will need to be encouraged to take part in open discus­sions.

The leader should always be sensitive to members who are quiet but can work to include them by using a statement such as, "I would like to hear the ideas of anyone who has not had a chance to contribute yet." Or if you believe that the person not participating feels comfortable enough with the team, you can ask directly for his or her input: "[Name], what is your opinion"?

If a team member goes week after week without contributing to the team's activities, the leader should discuss it with the person apart from the meeting to find out if there is anything he or she can do to help them contribute more openly.

Observation: A member is dominating the discussion.

Intervention: There are a number of reasons a person may domi­nate the team's discussion. The person could be energized by the project the team is working. His or her enthusiasm causes the person to stay activated naturally. Some member's style may be to bulldoze a deci­sion his or her way.

This will cause that person to stay engaged until they "win." Or it could be a member who just takes a long time to make a short point. Whatever the reason, the intervention used will probably be the same. The leader should acknowledge the member's contribution by summarizing the point he or she made.

Then record the member's idea or opinion on a flip chart as a first idea for the team. Solicit additional ideas from other members of the team by asking, "Is there any other ideas someone else would like to contribute?"

Dominating members, while sometimes seeming to be a problem to the team, actually bring a lot of energy. That energy can be channeled positively and transferred to the rest of the team.

The leader should intervene any time the team seems to be bogged down or confused in their discussions. A lot of problems can be avoided if the leader makes sure the team clearly understands the task before they begin. This will help the members understand their role in the discussions.

To resolve conflicts: Many people would like to think that teams can function without conflict but that would not only be impossible, it would not be the kind of atmosphere needed for creating synergy.

Team synergy begs for conflict of ideas. Conflict can bring into being the creative tension where paradigm-shifting ideas are born. But of course, conflict of ideas should never destroy a team's unity or develop into a negative personal issue between the members.

The difference between creative conflict and harmful conflict is often a fine line and requires a perceptive leader to recognize the difference. Whenever conflict is undermining the cohesiveness of the team, it is the leader's job to assist the team to a successful resolution of that conflict.

To Be Continued

Part 1   Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8

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