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Size DOES matter – 5 Steps to Better Team Meetings

Saturday morning, my spinning class was raucous, a cacophony of conversation. The instructor had a hard time breaking through with her standard and ever increasing challenges. The spinning room had recently expanded from a surprisingly small group of bikes 7 to 9 bikes and none of us thought it would make any real difference.

The din of Saturday’s session proved us wrong. When there is more than seven in a group, interaction becomes much more complex to manage. In the case of our spinning class, it really did not matter as long as our instructor could speak loud enough to break through the noise. In working with teams and workgroups on the other hand, it can make or break the productivity.

A study done by the US Forest Service some years ago showed that size was one critical ingredient to group effectiveness, with no more than 7 being the ideal number.

In addition to size, having the right people at the table is essential. In a recent article in Fast Company, Meetings are a Skill you can master, and Steve Jobs Taught Me How, Ken Segall describes how important it is to ensure the right people are there—if not, they might create unnecessary noise or cacophony that distracts from the task at hand.

This issue of size and noise is further complicated by working virtually. In a recent study The Challenges of Working in Virtual teams, they found that 94% found a key challenge for virtual team members was the inability to read nonverbal cues and 85 percent felt an absence of collegiality among virtual team members.

These five steps will help you ensure that size matters in your team meetings:

  1. Get to the Core: Think about who really needs to be on the core team. For anyone that you hesitate with, use them as adjuncts on an as needed basis. Tip--Think about why someone is under consideration—are they needed to contribute or for information or partial work only. If the latter, use them as an adjunct member.
  2. Mix It Up: Evaluate your selection and make sure you do not have too much similarity in the group. As a group gets smaller, diversity can be even more important, especially if the task requires tackling a tough challenge or one that required creative thinking. Tip: Look to build a Whole Brain® Team, bringing together different thinking styles. (The HBDI® Profile can provide an accurate and quick snapshot of a groups’ thinking.)
  3. Lead with a Rubber Band: To best leverage the thinking in any team or group, a facilitator must stretch their thinking to hear and take advantage of the different perspectives in the group. Tip: Our research showed that Whole Brain® thinkers will improve the effectiveness of a group. Don’t have one? Tip: Apply Whole Brain® Thinking team tools to help the process and learn how to stretch your thinking profile, as if it were a rubber band.
  4. Who Really Needs to Be There?: Segall’s article describes Steve Jobs asking a person to leave a meeting because she did not add value in that situation. I think the biggest error was how she got invited there in the first place, if indeed she did not add value. Expelling is extreme and you risk removing people who will add a different perspective. Tip: Think about who needs to be there and what their perspective brings to the table first. Avoid letting lurkers stay just to be politically correct-meeting time is costly and most people, when asked graciously, are pleased to have time freed up if they are not really needed.
  5. Get personal: When working with virtual teams, ensure that members know each other and can see each other for best results. Tip: Use technology (SKYPE is free) to allow virtual team members to see each other and make eye contact for improved communication. Use Thinking styles assessments to accelerate the getting to know you process—it will save you time later!
  6. Make It Work: If you are not in a position to influence the size or make up of your team, look for ways to make the best use of the team members and meeting times. Tip: Create sub- teams or task forces to reduce meeting time. Always have an agenda and clear goals before you get started and make sure everyone fully understand what you are there to do—and feel they can self-select out if they are not adding value!

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Tags: Research, Leadership Advice, Meeting Design, Training Design, Teams, HBDI, Whole Brain Thinking

The four-color, four-quadrant graphic, HBDI® and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC.

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