Meetings…How many people does it take to solve a problem?

Conference room

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Recently, I’ve been pondering how many (or how few) people it takes to efficiently and effectively solve a problem. Unfortunately, sometimes solving problems means lots of meetings. While meetings are intended to promote collaboration and to bring the best thinking to challenges, not all meetings are productive. I believe¬† good meetings hinge upon two things: 1) leadership and 2) teamwork. As I watched the recent U.S. debt deal unfold in Congress, I began to think about how poorly solved problems could be a result of unproductive meetings.

When it comes to leadership, a good leader sets a vision, creates clear goals AND helps the team reach those goals. Yes, there are different types of leadership styles and ways of approaching situations, but as author, John C. Maxwell said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Though leadership is important, teamwork may be even more important. Penn State provides a comprehensive list of attributes of functional teams. The attributes include:

  • Full Participation – All team members contribute their time and energy to the project and to the decision making process.
  • Trust – Members trust that each member will add value to the project, and members work to ensure that everybody does contribute and that appreciation is expressed for different contributions.
  • Open Communication – This includes contributing ideas, providing constructive feedback, asking for clarification, providing updates, and listening carefully
  • Clear Roles – Teams tend to function better if member roles are defined.¬†
  • Quality Control – Successful teams are willing to collectively review their output and processes to ensure that the final product or solution meets or exceeds the team goal.
  • Risk-taking – A successful team will also be willing to take creative chances or experiment. That could mean that a team may do something not within the stated project guidelines.
  • Social/Business Balance – Although teams shouldn’t socialize 100% of the time, it shouldn’t be all business either. A dose of chit-chat allows members to know each other better, leading to better working relations.

In thinking about how Congress is structured, is there really any chance we can solve problems well, when the mix of people on the team are, by nature, adversarial? Consider the attributes that make up a functional team the next time you watch a Congressional debate or attend a meeting. I wonder how we might put aside self-interest for the sake of efficient and effective problem solving?

One answer might lie in inviting fewer people to the meeting. This is what Congress is doing by creating a super committee with just 12 members. Time will tell whether a smaller number of people will bring about a better solution. For my part, I am a strong believer in smaller meetings of empowered team members and hold out hope the super committee will eliminate another $1.5 trillion in cuts.

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