One of the key functions of leadership is the ability to effectively lead group discussions. When opening a group discussion you always risk going off subject and ending up in the middle of tangents. Sometimes that can actually be productive and others, a total waste of time. Either way, the process of including others in brainstorming sessions can be very valuable. Learning how to validate everyone’s comments while keeping the discussion relevant and productive is key.
Here are 8 strategies for leading productive group discussions:
- Know what you need to accomplish up front. Be clear about the outcomes you are seeking.
- Establish the ground rules up-front. Consider including total time for the exercise, amount of time for responses, introduce the parking lot (see 3), identify objectives, etc.
- Utilize the “parking lot” technique. Whether you are using an electronic device, notepad, white board or a giant post-it note, designate a visual area to hold ideas that need to be considered but are not necessarily relevant to the current discussion. Anything said that will take you off-track, but should be explored at a later time, needs to go on the list. Validate the comment, then say let’s “parking lot” that for later. It’s a respectful way to mitigate the tangents and stay on track.
- Allow time for introverts to respond. They typically will not fight for airtime like their extroverted teammates, so notice when they want to provide input and invite them to contribute. Send the agenda ahead of time to give all people time to prepare and organize their thoughts.
- Remember you might have the best idea in the room and…..you might not! Be open to both options.
- Provide timelines for circling back on outcomes. Close the loop on any item you thought was important enough to include. Your team needs to know how it ends.
- Give recognition where it is warranted. If it wasn’t your original idea, give kudos to the person that deserves it. They will feel appreciated and that will ensure they continue to participate in the future. We have all had it happen…the “boss” is standing there talking about the great idea that YOU came up with. Don’t be that kind of leader. Nothing kills your effectiveness faster than taking the credit for someone else’s good idea! (Oh, thank you Marla for introducing me to the parking lot!)
- When it is appropriate, explain why you chose the direction you chose. You are the one that is seeing the big picture (hopefully). Most of your team has a more narrow scope. Connect the dots for them when needed.
Leading group discussions is a huge part of leadership. Many of us fall into an extreme category of either being too collaborative or not asking anyone for feedback. Finding middle ground will lead to better outcomes and more engagement from your team. Two heads really are better than one….provided they are in sync.
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