I recently wrote about the damage that infighting, or an “us versus them” mentality can bring to organizations. When groups aren’t getting along – or see themselves as competing with other departments or team members – it can drain productivity, dampen morale and lead to a lasting sense of bad blood between the opposing groups.
Part of what I do as a professional facilitator is to resolve old hurts, engineer a better sense of collective understanding and ultimately, build stronger teams.
Whether it’s a more general goal, like helping groups work better together, or a specific one – like putting together a strategic plan – leaders can use a similar process to reconcile perceived differences.
These are tried and true ways of building bridges, and often start with a simple clearing of the air and bringing misunderstandings – or different understandings – into the open.
If you’re a leader, or work alongside a group that is having trouble coming to consensus, there are a few methods you can try to help bring everyone back onto a similar page.
Try these tips – pulled straight from my facilitator handbook – to help reduce siloed thinking and find unity even among widely varying opinions.
It makes a world of difference – and here’s how you can try it easily, yourself, from the comfort of your own meeting room.
Ask everyone to tell you (or the group) everything they know about the subject. What are all the known facts about a topic or subject? Get everyone’s perspective, even when they are at odds. Then ask what is exciting? Concerning? Where are they feeling positive? Negative? Where is information missing? What else might they need to know?
You can borrow some of the specific exercises I outlined in a previous blog, or, more informally, you can simply give people on your team five minutes to talk about their perspective without interruption. Everyone just listens. Then let someone with an opposing or different perspective talk for five minutes, uninterrupted. If there’s a party with a third perspective, ask them to speak for five minutes, without interruption. By doing that, you can help give a sense that there is a space for all perspectives to sit around the table.
When all the sides have been heard (without interruption), ask the group to summarize their understanding of each perspective and confirm with the speakers that their perspectives have been correctly heard. In this manner, the group affirms its understanding of the various perspectives.
Often, I find the people that talk the fastest, the loudest, the most passionately, the ones with the most vehemence, often haven’t felt heard. They hang on to a position because they’re desperate for someone to simply hear them say it. You can easily ease this by simply allowing them to fully hold court and present their view and understanding of an issue.
If you’re finding teams or individuals are working at cross-purposes, try to find a common interest. Is there any common ground they can agree on? What are they worried about? What’s at risk? What are the implications if they don’t get the answer they’re looking for? What are some alternatives?
If you’re able to move towards common ground, even, say, making a joint recommendation from a shared position, then you start to move away from gridlock.
Is being wrong so bad?
In her book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Katheryn Shultz writes that when you open your mind to other opinions than your own, when you stop laser-focusing on being right, you can enable a whole new level of learning, brainstorming, problem solving and creativity.
But it’s tough! As she points out, since grade school, we’ve all been conditioned to try and get the best marks, find the right answer. And if we’re wrong, we’re diminished. We feel embarrassed, ashamed, rejected.
Yet, she contends, when you get a “right answer,” you’re simply affirming something you already know – and where’s the growth it that?
Only when you explore wrongness can you truly grow and learn something new.
With this in mind, try to encourage a mindset during group discussions that that nothing participants say is wrong. This will help create movement in the room – when that fear is reduced and when people find themselves more comfortable sharing ideas from all different viewpoints – and listening to those who they might usually not.
If you’re facing a situation where your team members are really stuck – and you find yourself in the middle – don’t be afraid to say it. It’s not unusual for me to observe an impasse during a group discussion and share that observation with the group. I will ask the group if they see it differently. And then I will ask the group for ideas on how to move forward: maybe everyone needs a break, maybe everyone wants to continue to hack away at the problem, or maybe we can shift tracks and tackle another issue and return to the sticky issue later.
When in doubt, I always put it back to the group, so they understand where they are at in the process, and so that the group has the opportunity to identify what they need in order to find their way back to a productive place.
I’ll be honest, there used to be a time when I felt that I was failing to “own the meeting” when I turned the decision back to the group (i.e. how could I run the meeting if I didn’t have all the answers?). Now I understand that I never owned the meeting in the first place, the group did. My job was – and is – to help the group decide what it wanted… And, in a lot of cases, this is a leader’s role too. If this scenario sounds familiar, I encourage you to take a moment, forget about ownership, and think more about consensus – like a facilitator!
Parsons Dialogue is based in Calgary, Canada, serving clients across North America. We design and facilitate strategic processes that help teams collaborate with clarity and confidence.