Make your meetings positive

An interesting article in April’s Harvard Business Review (‘The New Science of Building Great Teams’ by Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland) reported research that examined the patterns of communication in teams (e.g. how much they gesture, interrupt, listen and talk; their tone of voice; whether they face one another when speaking, etc.). The researchers reckon they can predict a team’s success based on three elements:

  1. how team members contribute to the team as a whole (energy)
  2. how much team members communicate with one another (engagement)
  3. how the team communicates with other teams (exploration).

They concluded that the key to building a great team is not to select the smartest or most experienced people but to shape and guide the way they communicate with each other.

In her Workplace Communicator Blog posted 11/11/12, Marie-Claire Ross combined these successful ways of communicating with Dr Barbara Fredrickson’s research into positive psychology, reported in her book Positivity. Marie-Claire concludes that to improve safety meetings (or any meetings, or to help people work better together, for that matter) you need to make your meetings positive.

This means being positive in the messages you give (see my blog How Managers Communicate). Here are some tips to make your meetings positive:

  • Open on a positive note.
  • Keep the atmosphere upbeat and inclusive.
  • Keep ‘critics’ (negative team members) in check.
  • Get people in the habit of making suggestions rather than criticising and on focusing on the future rather than the past.
  • Make at least three positive comments for every negative comment. (Frederickson says the ratio in high performance teams is 6 positive comments to 1 negative comment, not 3 to 1, but if you’re team isn’t yet high performing, 3 to 1 seems a good place to start.).
  • Concentrate on what’s best for the organisation or team rather than on individuals. This means, for instance, not letting people with personal, or ‘hidden’, agendas introduce topics and working to build bridges between any functional silos that exist in the organisation. Another way to build the team and the organisation is by telling stories that illustrate a behaviour you want to continue; this might be reviewing and praising someone’s actions that demonstrated safe working or talking about how someone on your team or in another team put the corporate values into action.

Discussion questions

Do you think a team’s internal and external communications can predict how successful and productive the team is? Is it possible to predict a team’s performance just from observing team members’ body language and tone of voice?

What are the communications in your work team like? How many positive statements do you and your team members make for every negative statement? Why not keep a tally at your next meeting? Do your team members think about what’s best for the team or the organisation or only for themselves individually?