One Simple Tool For Controlling Loudmouths In Your Team Meetings
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Have you ever been in one of those team meetings, virtual or face-to-face, where a few big personalities just dominate the space? They usually talk louder than everyone else, and if the boss or team leader isn’t speaking, all you hear are their thoughts, their ideas, their yeas and their nays. The quieter, more passive folks in the meeting feel totally shut out from participating, and even the people who usually don’t have a problem being heard can’t get a word in.
Unless you’re the loud one who’s stealing the show, you walk out of those meetings feeling anxious about the loss of your time, bitter that your good ideas didn’t have a chance at getting heard and pretty irritated at the leader of the meeting for letting it happen. Is it any wonder that bad meetings can be so damaging to a leader’s reputation?
Meetings are supposed to be value-adding forums where everyone invited to the meeting gets to participate. Isn’t that why you called all those people into the meeting in the first place; to gather and apply their input and knowledge towards making smarter and better decisions?
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The nominal group technique is designed to equalize every voice on the team. It’s an intelligent approach to encouraging the quiet people to speak out while subtly pressuring the loud people to tone it down a bit. All the technique requires is you as the leader of the team exerting a bit more control over the group, which, after all, is just doing your job.
Before we jump into how it works, there’s one point I need to hit. Great meetings require great agendas that give folks a chance to prepare so no matter whether loud or soft voiced, they have the opportunity to bring actual value to the meeting. If your people aren’t speaking up in meetings because they have no way to prepare for that meeting, that’s an entirely different problem.
OK, nominal group technique. Let’s say the team has a decision to make, the meeting agenda that went out to everyone stated: the purpose of this meeting is to debate and decide upon the proposal price for the new project we’re pitching ACME Corp. You invited seven people to the meeting and each of them brings a unique and valuable perspective to making this decision. You need to hear what each of them has to say.
What you want to do is as soon as everyone settles down, pass around some sheets of paper, or if it’s a virtual meeting, use a web meeting tool that allows people to write in responses. Then give these directions: “We’re going to take five minutes here and what I want is to get your individual ideas about how you think we should price this proposal. I want the number but I also want to hear why you think that’s the right number, so back it up with some pros and cons, the whys and the why not’s, etc. You’ve got five minutes to write it down then we’re gonna pass the papers forward to me to be discussed.”
The nominal group technique quickly and easily accomplishes three big things. One, it forces everyone to take a step back and actually do some thinking. This applies especially to those loud voices I mentioned earlier who often just shout out the first idea that pops into their mind, thereby commandeering the meeting. But it makes everybody think. Two, it gives every voice in the meeting an equal chance to get heard. And three, once everyone’s ideas and thoughts are written down and passed over to you; you now have the opportunity to control the discussion that takes place in this meeting.
One way you can do this is to go through those pieces of paper one at a time and say “let me talk about this first idea. This person feels the contract should be priced at $12.5 million, which is $2.5 millionhigher than we usually charge for this job, but they support this higher number based on the tight timeline we’re facing on this job, which is going to mean more manpower focused away from other work, etc.” Then you move on to the second piece of paper and say, “ This person feels $8.5 million is the right pricing the job, which they acknowledge sounds pretty low ball until you factor in the following numbers that outline the additional business this new client will likely bring our way.” And so on until you hit on everyone’s ideas.
Another approach, instead of having everyone write down and pass their ideas to you, is you could start the meeting by saying “I’m going to give every person here three minutes, with no interruptions from anyone, to share with the team your thoughts on how you think we should price this proposal and why.” And again, in doing this, you immediately make everybody on the team more thoughtful. The people who might be inclined to shout out with kneejerk responses are forced to tone it down, and the folks who may be inclined to passively hang back are forced to stand up and say “here is what I’m thinking.”
Whichever of these two approaches you take to the nominal group technique, you’ll have equalized the voices in the meeting and exerted more control over the group, which contributes strongly to how people perceive you as a leader. Great leaders who run mediocre meetings tend to have worse reputations than lousy leaders who run great meetings. But perhaps most importantly, you made sure you got the best thinking from everyone in the group so you can make the best decision.