I have written multiple times about collaboration and how valuable it is, and a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review – Bringing out the best in your team by Brian Bonner and Alexander Bolinger – reminded me of one critical ingredient. As all of us have experienced repeatedly, from case studies in business school to conference calls to team meetings, usually a small subset of the group drives the call or meeting. This phenomenon leads to two problems:
- The people dominating the meeting are not necessarily the ones with the most relevant knowledge
- Everyone at the meeting should have something valuable to add, otherwise they should not be at the meeting, so letting a few monopolize restricts the knowledge shared.
Effectively, outgoing people get the most air time and visibility even if they are not the most expert on the topic or problem.
Bonner and Bolinger offer an elegant yet simple solution (and simple is usually more elegant than complex), early in a task or project, have each team member discuss the relevant knowledge they bring to the effort. Bonner and Bolinger tested three scenarios. First was a normal meeting dynamic, second was asking everyone to work on the project individually and and the third test group started the project by inventorying the members’ knowledge. The results were that the group with normal dynamics had the weakest results, as they deferred to whoever seemed most confident. The individual performers came in at the middle, as they had varied and interesting approaches to the issue. The team that worked together, while first letting all team members discuss their relevant skills, had clearly the best performance because not only did they all bring good ideas and information but they build off of each other.
What I love about this research and analysis is it is very simple and easy to implement. You do not have to change your org structure or management techniques, simply at the beginning of every project go around the room (or phone) and have everyone discuss their relevant skills and how it will help the project.
- Meetings and calls are inefficient because they are often dominated by the most outgoing or confident.
- Asking people at the beginning of a project, meeting or call to describe their relevant skills and how they will contribute, reduces this bias.
- Having everyone list their skills and then work collaboratively is a better alternative than having people work individually, as ideas and information combines to form superior solutions.