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Avoiding Obstacles that Trap Teams in Mediocre Collaboration

Thursday, February 9, 2017 - 13:45
Avoid Collaboration Obstacles

Recognize and solve negative patterns or you’ll end up solving the same problems over and over.”
– Dan Rockwell, Leadershipfreak blog

In Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking, consultant and author Matthew E. May uses neuroscience to explain why our best efforts to innovate often become mired in mediocrity. We explored ways to overcome this in another blog post: Using Curiosity to Fuel Business Transformation. Now we want to explore why mediocrity wins out over innovation. In his book, May proposes two probable neural culprits:

  1. Our brains are efficient processors that seek expediency and, hence, bias our behavior toward action over deliberation.
  2. Our brains have a literal split structure, with circuitry on one side devoted to certain processes and wiring on the other side dedicated to different procedures.

So, when faced with complex or prolonged problem-solving sessions, our brains become impatient and have trouble focusing on two types of mental processing – e.g., investigating why we’re having problems and how to fix them – at the same time. These neurological conflicts, May explains, typically result in two “fatal flaws” in our thinking that limit us to “mediocre” performance.

2 Neurological Flaws Behind Mediocrity

  • Satisficing – When a business team settles for a solution that is good enough rather than exerting the effort necessary to resolve a problem completely.
  • Downgrading – When business leaders revise goals and objectives downward or backward to claim success or progress in less time and/or with commitment of fewer resources.

May's Reccommended Fixes

  • Double Down – which is a method of synthesizing new solutions by taking the best aspects of two options instead of committing to a single course of action.
  • Fresh Starts – which is a tactic that imposes “temporal landmarks” – i.e., the top of an hour, the next morning, Monday, the first day of the month, etc. – on tasks or assignments to divert our attention away from “day-to-day details” to the “big-picture view of our situation.”

How Thinking Flaws Translate to Meeting Flaws

In a previous post, we explained that the thinking flaws identified by May in Brain Game can become the basis of “fatal obstacles” to efficient and effective collaboration. In terms of “mediocre” performance, we believe Satisficing and Downgrading translate into these tendencies in meetings:

  • Bolting – When a meeting leader ends a session without taking time to review conclusions and discuss next steps. And/or when participants leave a meeting without a clear understanding of their responsibilities following the session.
  • Trimming – When one or more team members opens a meeting by announcing a lesser commitment to preparation or discussion than appropriate or previously agreed.

So, let’s synthesize some ways to circumvent these obstacles by applying the principles of May’s fixes:

Surrender control to would-be “Bolters”

One way to “double down” against the Bolting obstacle is for meeting leaders to relinquish control at the end of a session to participants. Yes, having a capable facilitator is a best practice for collaboration of any type – whether voice, visual, virtual or some mix of all three. And yes, reviewing conclusions and discussing next steps before closing a meeting is a best practice, too. But no rule dictates that the facilitator must take full responsibility for all best practices. Meeting leaders should build time into their agendas for each participant to share one conclusion from the session and claim at least one action item. And participants need not fret if meeting leaders fail to plan this closing process. In the interest of progress, feel free to interrupt a meeting with your conclusions and actions before everyone bolts. In fact, we offer some constructive approaches in our post “How Interrupting a Meeting Can Boost Productivity.”

Offer “Trimmers” a “Fresh Start” (including yourself)

In this blog, we’ve exhorted readers to prepare for their meetings many times. But we’ve also conceded that today’s digital technology, which enables any one of us to reach colleagues, customers and/or partners any place in the world at anytime from anywhere, can fill our calendars and diminish our availability. Sometimes, neither leaders nor participants have ample time to prep for meetings. So, why not make fresh starts an option? If one or more team members don’t feel prepared, maybe push the session back an hour, a day or even to the next week. Trade punctuality for progress. And of course, heed Dan Rockwell’s advice at the start of this article and be wary that fresh starts don’t become bad habits.

Check out our previous Brain Game post in which we discuss tactics to remove collaboration obstacles.

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