When I originally took the Dale Carnegie Course, it was 12 weeks long and included a section on how to lead effective problem solving meetings. This exercise encompassed about 90 minutes of small group work and outlined best practices for efficiently conducting an effective meeting.
When the program changed to the tightened, 8-session version, the problem solving meeting session was moved from the Dale Carnegie Course into the Leadership Training for Managers program, focusing the exercise on individuals assuming positions of management and leadership.
However, the Dale Carnegie Course continues to incorporate the core practices of the problem solving meetings when participants get into small groups for various communication exercises.
Now it doesn’t matter if you are planning to learn these tactics by participating in the next Dale Carnegie Course or through instruction in the Leadership Training for Managers program. These 9 points will help you structure your next meeting for efficiency and keep your team focused on your identified challenge:
- State the problem at the top of the meeting. This is the reason you are convening the group. Recognize that it doesn’t matter if you have pulled together a “Tiger Team” to solve a particular engineering challenge, a sales team to sell a solution to a client, or a politician addressing over 100 people in a town hall. Everyone is gathered for a singular purpose. As the leader of that meeting, it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone knows why they are gathered together. Use your speaking skills to get everyone on the same page and agreeing on the desired outcome at the end of the meeting. Remember, a problem well stated is a problem half solved.
- Ask for causes of the problem. After stating the problem, get input from the group on possible causes of the problem. You can call it brainstorming. You can call it green light thinking. You can use whatever terminology you want to use. The purpose is to keep the ideas unfettered and free flowing. From my experience, there is usually more than one cause at play in an identified problem, but one cause in particular will dominate the rest. Your purpose here is to identify as many causes as possible and then narrow the field to address the one or two major contributing causes of the problem.
- Ask for possible solutions to the problem. When asking for possible solutions, ask for evidence as well. This lends credibility to the proposed solutions, will insure your players are engaged, and will reduce the number of frivolous solutions. Use the 7 forms of evidence outlined in the DEFEATS formula.
- Select the best possible solution. Throughout the possible-solution discussion, perform brief recaps to keep options at the forefront of everyone’s mind. When sufficient solutions have been reviewed, select the best possible solutions and and call for a vote. Recognize that sometimes, the best possible solution may be a combination of several recommendations. Also recognize that a vote may not be required in every possible situation. In some instances, you may simply be looking for additional ideas to crystallize your own thinking before making an executive decision.
- Appoint a recorder. Identify someone who can take notes and record actions items from the meeting. This insures that nothing gets lost and adequate follow up can happen. After all, you want to insure that your decisions are converted into action.
- Express your own personal ideas last. As the leader of the group, recognize that some individuals in the meeting are extremely sensitive to the thoughts and needs of their boss, manager or supervisor because of their conditioning. You want to bring other people’s ideas into play without having your own thoughts and ideas color the discussion. The last thing you need is a group of yes-men reinforcing what you already know. Your task is to direct, encourage, and lead, not to participate extensively or influence the direction of the discussion. Save your thoughts and ideas after everyone else has expressed theirs. Oh, and be sure to offer sincere appreciation for everyone that offers up their input.
- Encourage an open environment by minimizing parliamentary procedure. The essence of parliamentary procedure is that the group abides by majority rule but the minority has to be heard. It’s structured so that everyone in the group has a voice. However, parliamentary procedure is very structured and will slow down the progress of a meeting of a small group looking to get things done quickly. In a governing body, parliamentary procedures are good to have. However, in a small engineering group or a sales group seeking to resolve an issue quickly, you are better off encouraging green-light/red-light thinking. And for a sizeable group of a dozen or more participants, request that anyone who wishes to speak be recognized from you, the leader, so that you can maintain control.
- Keep the meeting on track. Maintain the meeting flow by encouraging brief and focused contributions. For those individuals that tend to get off topic or are purposely trying to monopolize the meeting, use the leadership principles to get them back on track.
- Encourage everyone to participate. While the most common method to include everyone is the “Round Robin” method, keep this method to a minimum. Again, some individuals may be uncomfortable presenting their ideas in a group forum and the last thing you want them focused on is how fast their turn is approaching. Instead, use the Dale Carnegie human relations principles to ask questions, make the environment inviting, and make them happy about contributing. This will go a lot farther to drawing out those individuals who have a lot to offer but may be initially reluctant to propose their ideas
Got a special management tactic that you use in your meetings? Let me know in the comment section below.