Assigning Roles for Meetings


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Have meetings felt unproductive and have not been building your confidence in the value they may have added? Was there insufficient time to consider all the options available or making the best decisions following an open discussion? Perhaps it is time to consider assigning roles to those who attend your meetings.

Productive Meetings

The reason why assigned roles work is that meeting participants are often not fully engaged in asking questions, stimulating discussions, summarizing agreements reached, critically review suggestions or ideas, or ensuring that everyone there has a chance to contribute. Having a specific role to play at a meeting helps participants to focus on helping the team fully explore options, evaluate the options, and make high-quality decisions following the discussion.

The roles are specific and defined and it would require specific individuals to act accordingly for the duration of the meeting. Roles vary from being the one to bring up a lot of questions about the issues on the agenda to being someone who plays devils advocate or being the critical one when it comes to suggestions tabled for consideration. Of course, all meeting participants continue to bring their own skills, opinions, and knowledge to the meeting and are expected to contribute those to the discussions too.

How to assign roles

Roles can be assigned before a meeting, the chairperson can ask meeting participants to volunteer for the various roles before the meeting starts or the chairperson can randomly assign roles at the start of the meeting (often done by means of handout out cards which explain the task of each role on a 2×4 inch card).

Task roles to assign

Initiator/Contributor

Contributes ideas and suggestions or proposes solutions and decisions. Proposes new ideas or reframes existing ideas in a different way.

Information Seeker

Asks for clarification related to comments – are they based on verified data? Asks for information or facts relevant to the problem. Suggests when more information may be needed before making decisions.

Opinion Seeker

Asks for clarification related to comments made by meeting participants.  Find out how people feel about ideas on the table.  Include those who have not yet been able to contribute an opinion during the discussion.

Critic

In a constructive manner, verbalizes ways in which a suggestion or idea could have unforeseen negative consequences for other (internal or external) stakeholders in the implementation of such suggestion/idea.

Process guard

Indicates decision-making errors and biases which may be skewing support towards a particular outcome. Points out departures from agreed-on agenda and discussion goals. Tries to bring the group back to the central issues and raises questions about the direction in which the group is heading

Summarizer

Summarizes what has taken place and what decisions have been made to date. Reminds the group of assumptions made along the way during discussions.

Note-taker and timekeeper

Keeps notes of decisions made, and actions agreed to. Reminds the group of an approaching break/end of the meeting.

Dysfunctional roles at meetings

Sometimes meetings are unproductive because one or more meeting participant is engaging in playing a dysfunctional role during the meeting which stifles discussion, shuts down conversations, and focuses the attention in unhelpful ways. Discussing these before the meeting starts could be another way to create awareness of unproductive meeting behaviors in order to avoid them. Sometimes it can be interesting to review a meeting in hindsight to identify if anyone engaged in any of these dysfunctional roles. This would be useful to help meeting participants develop self-awareness related to their meeting participant behaviors.

dysfunctional roles

It can be an taxing task to keep track of progress, keep an eye on the clock while also making sure that actions and decisions are captured while ensuring that discussions make optimal use of the skills and experience in the meeting room. Assigning task roles to meeting participants can give you a much-improved chance of having a productive meeting which ensures full engagement of all those present.

How good are your meetings? – Exercise


Most teams have challenges when it comes to ensuring optimal collaboration and effectiveness during meetings. It is true that many people are not fond of meetings and the list of pet peeves include that meetings are too long, do not reach any outcomes or agreements, are one-way conversations etc.  The tool I am sharing today can help teams become more aware of their particular downfalls and habits which contribute to having less effective meetings.

The exercise requires the assignment of an observer to help make behaviors, team dynamics, habits and meeting inefficiencies visible to the team by simply observing them during a meeting.

The assigned observer can be a team member (rotate the assignment to other team members for multiple team meeting observations) or it can be a trusted outsider (typically from Human Resources or Training & Development). The resource includes a template for the assigned observer to use when capturing impressions of the team during a meeting. The process of capturing observations, presenting observations and dealing with observations as a team is also described in the shared resource.

Reflections:

  • It does not really matter which specific questions are considered for observations or how exactly the team receives the feedback, the important part is to give the team a way to see themselves through the eyes of someone who is not participating in the meeting and thereby learning about themselves. The feedback information can be used for team improvements and also for individual learning. Individuals can learn how their own behaviors are contributing to team successes or inefficiencies and have the opportunity to consciously choose helpful behaviors going forward.
  • Typical team improvement actions that comes from using this kind or review are: having a concise set of team meeting rules which is either permanently displayed in the team meeting room or displayed on a screen at the start of each meeting to remind them of the behaviors they have decided to emphasize or eliminate in team meetings; implementing specific roles such as for example a time-keeper for each meeting to ensure that meetings, discussions and agenda topics are not dragged out too long and that an additional meeting be set instead to complete some topics which were too complicated to solve during a regular team meeting.
  • If you have used team measurement tools on a team you may also have a session where the team becomes aware of the likely blind-spots it may have due to the presence of specific personalities and styles in that team (based on the specific team effectiveness tool you have used with the team). The sum of the individuals present in meetings can lead to the greater team having specific blind-spots, which can be mitigated once the team becomes aware of them and are able to take actions (i.e. assign someone to take on a specific role which may be “missing ” in the team due to its specific contingent of members).

Making Difficult Decisions


Making decisions is a key part of any leader or manager’s day. Most new leaders find this somewhat intimidating. There is the fear of making the wrong decision, the fear of not having enough time to make the decision, the fear of not having enough information to make the decision and the list goes on.

“Every decision has at least a 50% chance of being the wrong one.”

The decisions that leaders make add up to the value that he or she adds to a team or an organization. And yet there are those who say most of our decisions have a 50% chance of being the right choice between two options. They say this to make the point that you can better make a choice and be active in the process than to avoid making a choice or a decision and being reactive.

Competing Benefit decisions
Classic example of trade-off choices

Trade-offs

When it comes to commercial and operational decisions most of the time the difficulty in decision-making lies in the correct trade-off within the benefits triangle (shown to the left).  If you can get the article/outcome within the time-frame that you would like and with the right quality that you would like to have, there may be a high cost trade-off. Similarly you can find yourself having a low cost at the right quality, but you may have to wait longer to receive the outcome or article. Understanding the trade-off as shown in the graphic above may make it easier to decide which of the three are non-negotiable and where a compromise may be appropriate.

Competing values

Another challenging area for decision-making can be competing values. Imagine you value employee development (as a leader or manager) and you also value productivity. Choosing to develop your employees typically means you have to take them away from their daily activities to attend a development or learning event. This implies they are not able to produce the results you need during that time. This kind of choice often comes at the last minute. Imagine you had planned for Employee A to attend a training course, but at the last moment he or she is sick or otherwise unable to attend and HR asks you to nominate a substitute and thereby presents you with a decision-making dilemma.

Competing Values Decisions

The graphic shown the the left illustrates some competing value trade-off decisions that you may be called upon to consider as a leader or manager.  If you have already completed a review of your own values as a leader you may have the advantage of using that as a framework for decision-making.  You would also need to look at the values that the company represent to make sure your trade-off options also include that perspective.

Finally when you do make a decision, be sure to explain your reasoning and make the values you are honoring clear to the impacted employee(s) or colleagues.

Decision-making styles

Decision Making Styles

Leaders and managers also often fall into the trap of trying to use only one decision-making style and they neglect to consider the other options open to them. There is a time and a place for every type of decision-making style.

Sometimes it may be appropriate to make autocratic decisions – this can be useful when the impact is limited, the need is immediate and the risk low of encountering resistance during implementation. At other times a more collaborative and inclusive decision-making process may be appropriate – such as when there are many stakeholders, people need to change their behaviors or work methods, time is on your side etc. Selecting only one decision-making style as a leader can make decisions difficult since you may find you experience a lot of resistance from others to implement your decisions especially if you favor autocratic decision-making most of the time.

The main job of a leader and a manager is to make decisions and choices in order to move projects and initiatives forward. Decisions also impact dealing with risks, unplanned barriers to success, and how to achieve the goals set for organizations and teams. All this, while respecting approval matrices, client satisfaction and the profitability of a project.

Decision-making is a skill that many leaders need help with and being more mindful about their own process for making decisions and understanding options open to decision-makers, is a good start. Work with a coach or trusted advisor if you want to talk through tough choices you need to make – it is a best practice that most successful executives engage in.