In movies, the devious bad guy wears a cape or a funny mask. In real life, it’s not until the meeting begins that you discover the saboteurs – the evil geniuses who have perfected techniques for slowing progress or thwarting the agenda. In consulting, it takes no more than five minutes to know what is in store for you and what kind of meeting deviant you are about to face.
I am starting to see some patterns, particularly when it comes to teams and problem solving. Sometimes one individual holds back the entire team. When my job is to unstick the bottleneck, I am observing that obfuscation happens for many reasons, but there are some buckets forming that explain these frustrating behaviors. Here is my list of the top meeting saboteurs. I wonder how many of them you know?
Let’s face it. Every organization has them. They slow progress so that their patterns don’t change, and life doesn’t get complicated. You sometimes see it as you meet new team members. It’s the guy who shakes your hand and says, “I’m Bob. I’m the senior guy here, and I have retirement on my mind.” And, he’s 29. Trouble! Or it’s the woman who tells you quickly about how much she loves her dogs and sometimes they need her to leave later in the morning because they love her so much. In fact, Poochie is going to the Vet after lunch, and she won’t be able to finish her part of the project until tomorrow.
These are the huge ego folks who huff and puff about themselves most likely because of an extremely low self esteem. These are the ones who never credit the team for success, but boast of their sacrifice in making things happen. They are the individuals who distract the group by repeating the same stories over and over or talking about themselves and their achievements during glory days. These are the “I” centric jerks who cause teams to cast their eyes downward or pull out their i-phones and answer e-mail or immediately, upon the sound of their voice, slip into a coma.
This is the guy who is trying to impress by giving you a laundry list of all of his other responsibilities and after 10 minutes says, “But I will work over the weekend to help with this project too.” I say, “That’s great. Talk to you Saturday.”
The obsessive need to be liked leads people to apologize in meetings. A great idea is expressed, but someone dislikes it, and they pull it off the table quickly with a “you’re right. It was a bad idea.” People pleasers often won’t make decisions or use the full extent of their experience and intelligence to solve problems, because another member of the team may disagree. Goodness gracious! They need a little Donald Trump coaching.
Another way to describe these folks - risk averse. They are safe, not apt to move or change; they waiver in their opinion. They seek group acceptance and group-think and then use differing perspectives as a reason to not move forward. They drive me nuts.
In the past, someone legitimately embarrassed or dressed down the fearful waif. You can see the pain in their eyes when they know the team is going down a wrong path or the unexpressed energy in their eyes when they have something they know will be important to say. But they cannot bring themselves to voice their input. Their scars are real and run deep. By keeping their good ideas to themselves, they hold back progress.
It’s often not the boss that I find with this challenge. It’s the frail ego, the hidden bigot, the privileged Millennial, the angry Boomer. Using one’s position, status, experience, knowledge, etc. to usurp power from any individual or from the group is a dangerous pattern some fall into. And one that rapidly destroys teams.
The “great idea” person who blurts out a response to EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. Put a cork in it.
These are the folks who will recount tales of the past of how their idea helped save a project. They talk incessantly about something that worked before without fully connecting it to the present. These are the individuals who tell you that they said something brilliant and the outcome exceeded all expectations. They have great stories, but they never seem to birth a great idea to help you in the moment.
I am learning how to navigate all these destroyers. Each requires a different kind of psychology. Feel free to comment on best practices you have learned to either quiet the noise or bring expression to the quiet. I am sure there are other super heroes of meeting destruction you can also add. As consultants we puzzle through each situation and how to best manage the team dynamic. it helps to think the strategies through before you hit the meeting room.
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