Some teams struggle to work together. Personalities clash, disagreements intensify and meetings turn into protracted turf battles.
When groups become polarized, shake up the status quo. Try these techniques to reverse a downhill spiral so that teams regain their footing:
1. Bring in more voices. When someone expresses frustration, many team leaders instinctively change the subject to prevent negativity from spreading. But that’s a misguided strategy.
A better response is to ask the group, “Anyone else feeling frustrated?” Although this invites more griping, the larger benefit is people can speak freely without fear of reprisal. Allowing teams to share their experience openly can increase the comfort level and lead to more effective collaboration.
2. Resist dishing out answers. Just because you’re the team leader doesn’t make you the resident know-it-all. If someone says, “I’m confused here,” don’t rush to reply, “Let me explain.” Instead, let others weigh in.
Say, “Let’s talk more about this. What do others think?” This enables team members to facilitate each other’s understanding.
3. Create clusters of like-minded people. When teammates argue over a contentious issue, divide the room into two subgroups based on their opposing views. Then ask Subgroup A to talk with each other while the other group listens.
As similar-minded people within Subgroup A discuss the issue, subtle differences will emerge. At the same time, Subgroup B listeners will usually detect positions similar to theirs as the A members express a range of seemingly aligned viewpoints.
Then let Subgroup B talk with each other while Subgroup A listens in. Through these exercises, participants will realize that they share more similarities than differences.
— Adapted from Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!, Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff, Berrett-Koehler.