The Group Dynamics of Meetings – or, all is not as it seems. Part II – Leadership
Dr. Jim Bohn – The “Blue Collar Scholar”
This article is part II of the Group Dynamics of meetings. Meetings are about people, not just process, and as we all know, people are complex and not always predictable. The more people we put together, the more complex the situation and the more difficult to obtain a useful and meaningful outcome. I discuss this concept in more depth in this article.
It’s not just about the leader – it’s the complexity of the people in the meeting.
In the last article, I argued that meeting leadership is more than getting a bunch of people together around a table for a couple hours until everyone is tired. A good meeting, well-led, can do remarkable things for organizations. A poorly led meeting is not only a waste of time, but destructive to the credibility of the leader. But leadership is only a part of an effective meeting.
Group Dynamics: There’s more to a meeting than meets the eye.
Group Dynamics is the study of how people work together. Group Dynamics is about the influences and interactions of people when they are tasked to achieve something together.
Power Dynamics: I was once on a conference call with a team from Asia. People tuned in one by one and there was the standard chatter that happens as people arrive — until the Division Chief toned in — then the call went nearly silent except for his voice. We know that in a collective society, there are levels of hierarchy which must be maintained, and clearly this is a circumstance most of us don’t deal with in America, but we need to know power is in the room, acknowledge it and use it to the purposes we are trying to achieve by meeting.
Working with power requires exceptional sophistication to effectively gain the intended outcome. From what I’ve seen over the years and decades is that high levels of power respond to only a few things: (1) Customer disasters, (2) legal challenges, (3) losses in the business or (4) opportunity for increased revenue. Executives (people in power) like data and they like it packaged well. Tell all the stories you like, executives still want data to make a decision. They also like sufficient rationale for your answers.
Understanding and managing the power dynamics in the room are critical to your success. If you’ve invited powerful leaders you have a purpose – a clear sense of why you want them in the meeting. Knowing their goals will help you manage their power in the room, asking for their insights and direction when appropriate. An appropriate agenda will go a long way toward using their influence to accomplish your goals. Keep this cardinal rule in mind: Powerful people don’t like to waste time.
Individual Personality Dynamics: Each person in the room has a personality – some are introverts, others extroverts, some are people who love details whilst others despise them and just want to get things done. Some personalities are abundantly shy – others loud, boisterous (obnoxious?!). Some people are easy to deal with and others are difficult. Some sit in the corner with their arms crossed and other are like puppies with too much to share. This is the reality in meetings. The point here is to accept that these individuals aren’t going to change to make your meeting go better BUT their input is likely critical to the success of your project, so ensure you manage them effectively by demonstrating proper respect, listening, asking questions and even going so far as to speak with them ahead of time to hear what’s on their minds. The point? Don’t expect people to change – but acknowledge them for what they bring. Understand that research like the Big Five Personality Inventory demonstrates it is really hard for people to change, but we can help people bring their very best to the work we are mutually engaged in.
Individual Goal Dynamics (also known as what’s in it for me?)
Acknowledging personality is only one element of understanding how people will work together. Acknowledging that each person in that room has personal goals is critical for a successful meeting outcome. Some are striving for promotion; some are interested in gaining the favor of and exposure to the executives in the room. Some desperately want to use their skills and some want to show other people how much they know. Some want to get engaged in a big project because they’re bored out of their minds and others hope they can get out of it because they are overloaded. And of course there are those that just want to get out of the meeting completely!
When people bring their time and effort to an event, they expect something in return. Now clearly they have a boss they report to who you can engage to gain their talents but a better approach is to mentally assess what people will gain from the interaction. One of the best questions you can ask yourself when conducting a meeting is: How will people’s work lives be better by working with me?
Corporate Identity Dynamics: Finally, each person in the room has a history with their current company, their current workload, and current projects — they have an identity of who they are in the grand scheme of things in an organization. Some have only been there a short time, whilst others have been there for decades. They need to be managed differently. Each person also has a history with the people in the room and finally, a history (or not!) with you as their leader. If they don’t know who is in the room – please take the time to have everyone introduce themselves, what they do and why they’re part of the team. Nothing is worse than being in a meeting where someone asks a question and you have no idea who they are!
So you’re dealing with power, with personality, with individual goals and with corporate identity dynamics. A great meeting leader will manage all of those elements, sometimes by meeting with people ahead of time, sometimes by gathering intelligence before the meeting (always a good idea), being certain that the ideas you’re bringing up don’t have a track record of failure and that you have a specific goal for getting everyone together.
It may seem obvious but it is worth repeating that a leader must ensure people feel safe in the meeting and sense they are respected.
So, like I said, there’s more to a meeting than meets the eye.
Ultimately, your goal with all those personalities and power is to ensure you move things forward, even if ever so slightly. It is critical that your meeting gives people a sense of accomplishment. People don’t want to waste their time, but they’re always willing to work with someone who has obvious capabilities at getting things done.
Bio – Dr. Jim Bohn
Identifying himself as a Blue Collar Scholar, Dr. Jim Bohn has served in a variety of roles in the corporate world since 1973, personally leading the transformation of multiple underperforming teams to achieve award-winning levels of success. “Working in the real world, I have had to live with the change management decisions I have made, both good and bad, and I believe that experience has given me insight into the best ways to approach change.” Having retired after several decades with Johnson Controls, Dr. Bohn launched his own Change Management and Organizational Transformation Practice. http://proaxios.com/
As a writer, His book on managing change “Architects of Change: Practical Tools for Executives to Build, Lead and Sustain Organizational Initiatives” was released in July 2015. Available at Amazon.com. Many of his LinkedIn posts exceed over 1,000 views and some have received nearly 12,000 views, acknowledging his expertise in organizational thinking.
His recent book entitled: “The Nuts and Bolts of Leadership: Getting the Job Done” is available on Amazon.com.
Dr. Bohn is currently completing a book entitled, “Getting I.T. Right: A leader’s guide to installing the organizational App.”
As a leader, Dr. Bohn has personally led significant change management projects including IT implementations, mergers, and reorganizations. He has served in roles ranging from the shop floor to design, engineering, sales, and service. “I consider my early operations experience to be invaluable for understanding change problems.” His pedigree includes global experience in change and operations.
As an educator, Jim Bohn has taught Organization Development at University of Wisconsin’s LUBAR School of Business, Business Ethics and Strategy at Concordia University and Leadership at Marquette University. He is currently an adjunct teaching Organizational Behavior at UWM-Lubar School of Business.
As a social scientist, Jim is deeply passionate about learning, developing and practicing organizational research in the context of change.
As a published scholar, Jim’s interest in Organizational Efficacy began during his Ph.D. studies at the University of Wisconsin. “The idea that people might be able to evaluate the power of an organization to control outcomes was very intriguing.” His groundbreaking research in Organizational Efficacy was published in Human Resource Development Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 3, Fall 2010, and has been translated into Russian and Italian. Jim was interviewed by Business Week in 2006 on the subject of Organizational Efficacy. [PDF]
He is a Master Facilitator who has led hundreds of workshops with audiences ranging from front-line mechanics to Senior Vice-Presidents. In addition to his work in organizational transformation, he has spoken at the National Academy of Change Management Professionals, and led workshops for SHRP and Wisconsin I/O Psychologists, ASTD-Twin Cities, MNCMN, MNODN, Atlanta Field Service Conference, the Chicago Corenet Real Estate Group, SHRM SIG group, Metro Milwaukee SHRM Annual Conference, PMI Group International, the Plant Manager’s Association, OFB, HR.COM, and PRSA International among others.
In addition, Dr. Jim Bohn has a passion for helping those in need. He has served on the Heroin Task Force of Ozaukee County, with Advocates of Ozaukee County (for victims of domestic violence), Habitat for Humanity, Safe Families of Minnesota and Family Sharing of Ozaukee County.