A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost. — Anonymous
Many people have ambivalent feelings about meetings in the workplace. On the one hand, it’s a chance to acquire new knowledge, share ideas, and bond with coworkers. On the other hand, meetings can be boring, time consuming, and tasks assigned each member of the meeting often wind-up dumped in the laps of just a few attendees.
Then, there is the role of group dynamics. What is group dynamics? According to alleydog.com:
Group Dynamics is the study of how people behave in groups and how different groups interact with each other. These group processes include membership, communication, influence, leadership, conflict, and teamwork, as well as how groups change over time (how they develop and dissolve) and how individuals change within a group.
Web.stanford.edu has a complete rundown (Roles People Play in Groups, by Ann Porteus) on all the various roles played by individuals in meetings that impact communication, influence, leadership, conflict, and teamwork. The variety of roles, both leadership and team, often overlapping, simultaneous, and ever-changing, is fascinating.
The article breaks-down roles into three main categories: Task (i.e., those who seek opinions, clarify communications, and summarize communications); Maintenance (i.e., those who encourage, harmonize, and express group thinking); and Hindering (i.e., those who are uncooperative, conduct side conversations, and actively degrade other group members).
Here are some group roles as outlined by skillsyouneed.com:
Autocratic — The Autocratic leader takes full control of the group and dictates what will happen.
Democratic — The Democratic leader runs the group as a democracy.
Laissez-Faire — The Laissez-Faire leader is very laid back in their approach.
Team Roles (according to Meredith Belbin’s work on team roles or functions):
Shaper — The Shaper is a dynamic, outgoing member of the team; they are often argumentative, provocative, and impatient.
Implementer — Implementers get things done – they have the ability of transforming discussions and ideas into practical activities.
Completer-Finisher — The Completer/Finisher is a task-orientated member of the group and as their name implies they like to complete tasks.
Phew! Who knew meetings could be this complicated? What all this shows is that a natural aversion to meetings may not be all that unreasonable. After all, who needs all the drama, plots, and subplots? But as they say, forewarned, is forearmed.
Being prepared includes knowing the agenda for the meeting, studying the minutes of the previous meeting (if this meeting is a follow-up to the previous meeting), and researching the subject area so that you’re informed and can offer relevant conversation, suggestions, and insight. Such preparation builds your own self-confidence. When you’re self-confident, others believe in your authority and are naturally drawn to you.
Go into the meeting with new information apropos of the topic at hand. Be generous in sharing knowledge and it will encourage others to do the same.
Shakespeare said, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” and just as if you were watching a stage play, retain a certain spectator’s distance. Study the “players” at the meeting instead of reacting on an emotional level. Take none of them personally — your only responsibility is to stay calm if things get heated and be the bigger person.
One way to cope with group dynamics if the drama builds in a meeting, is to know that most people are emotionally fragile. Even those who are seemingly outgoing and extroverted are probably much more emotionally fragile than you might think. When you view people through an empathetic lens, you shift your thinking from questioning how you feel, to caring how others feel. This lessens the likelihood that you’ll react to others in a way you might regret later.
When someone makes an interesting point or observation regarding the topic at hand, make sure you let them know that they’ve made an interesting contribution. Building-up the confidence of others, where appropriate, interjects positive notes into the proceedings and can be contagious. Others will probably copy your example.
As the meeting progresses, actively look for new nuggets of information that you can take away from the meeting and put to good use in achieving your own goals. In addition, look for at least one new contact where there is a mutual meeting-of-the-minds and be sure to follow-up with your new contact. Not only will you gain new knowledge and a new contact but actively looking for these throughout the meeting will keep you involved in what’s going on. When you stay involved, you avoid zoning-out which is not only counter-productive but reflects badly on you.
Don’t let anyone bait you into discussing coworkers and/or your boss (except in the most positive light) and avoid getting involved in the intrigue of others. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but anything you say will surface.
Don’t put down what others have to say, demean people by interrupting them, look at your phone or computer, conduct side conversations, or in any way treat others with disrespect. This can also be contagious, and you might find yourself on the receiving end of the same sort of treatment.
The goal is to be confident, supportive, interested, engaged positive force, while avoiding judgmental behavior. Be the role-model for how you want people to behave in a meeting. In doing so, not only will you survive your next meeting, but you’ll help others survive the meeting as well.
Contributor: Cynthia Dalton
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