There has been more divisiveness this past year inside and outside the church than we have known in recent history. From wearing masks to not wearing masks, growing racial tensions, political polarization, Covid-19 stresses…the list goes on! While we won’t be tackling all of those divisions in this post today, we do want to address one of the key ways to fight disunity on your team.
One of the most destructive things to team unity is when team members have side meetings after the main meeting.
The main meeting may be a staff meeting or an elder meeting or a leadership team meeting.
The side meeting after the main meeting is where two or more people have an off-the-record talk to discuss what just happened in the main meeting. Though side meetings are common, they are also destructive to team unity.
Side meetings happen when people don’t say what they really think during the main meeting.
Sometimes side meetings happen at the table after others have left. Sometimes side meetings happen over the phone or text or are whispered in the hallway after the main meeting. Sometimes side meetings are happening even during the main meeting as people exchange text messages under the table.
Why are Side Meetings After the Main Meeting such a problem?
First – When these extra meetings happen, the main meeting becomes an irrelevant waste of time. What’s the point of even having a meeting to work through something when all of the honest conversations happen later?
Second – Side meetings are a problem because they create factions rather than encouraging team unity.
Third – Side meetings damage relationships. Have you ever said something that you didn’t want another person to hear only to have him overhear it? This likely left you feeling embarrassed and doing relational damage control. Side meetings whispered after the main meeting create factions and tear down relationships.
Why Side Meetings Happen
Side meetings most often happen because of poor leadership. Though it still doesn’t make them OK, these meetings often take place because the leader has not created an open and honest environment where clear communication can happen, and differing views are respected.
Another reason that side meetings happen is that people on the team are not committed to sharing openly and honestly during the main meeting. This is ultimately also a leadership issue because it is the role of the leader to create an open and honest culture in meetings.
One more reason that side meetings happen is that you may have one or more toxic people on your team. When you have a person on your team, who is lacking in character or should not be on the team, that person may be a destructive presence to team unity. Before you jump to this conclusion, however, first make sure that you have done everything that you can to adjust your leadership, so that side meetings don’t become more important than the main meeting.
How to Stop Side Meetings After the Main Meeting
1. Don’t have collaborative meetings with more than eight people.
Leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni writes that the ideal size for a leadership team is somewhere between three and eight people. He bases this on the need for a leadership team to practice both inquiry and advocacy with communication.
Advocacy involves a person sharing an opinion or an idea, while inquiry involves asking questions or seeking clarity about someone ELSE’S opinion or idea. Lencioni argues that members of a healthy leadership team will practice one part advocacy and two parts inquiry.
When more than eight people are on a leadership team, inquiry begins to wane, and advocacy takes over. There are too many people in the room for each to share his view. Louder voices drown out softer ones. Talkative people fight to have their views heard, and others have a hard time even getting a word in. Some stop sharing their views altogether and save them for side meetings. That’s when problems begin.
Want to stop side meetings? Begin by right-sizing your team so that every person has the opportunity to share during the main meeting.
2. In a meeting, don’t shut down a person’s pushback by being defensive.
A healthy meeting culture encourages each person to contribute by sharing his views and insight. If you as the leader view the meeting as your opportunity to defend your view against every other, you’ll quickly shut down the voices of other people on the team. But they won’t stop talking. They’ll just talk elsewhere. In a secondary private meeting. And Behind your back. So, look for pushback to your views. Honor the views of others. Listen. Don’t get defensive of your view. If you want to stop destructive side meetings, you can’t defend your views against the views of others.
3. In the main meeting, dig for disagreement and conflict.
On a healthy team, members will disagree and push back against each other. If this is not happening, you have to wonder why people aren’t sharing their views. If you want to avoid destructive secret meetings, encourage the dialogue in the main meeting. Assume that there is disagreement and look for it. Ask individual people on the team to give honest feedback and to air it out in the main meeting.
4. Solicit agreement from each person in the meeting out loud on key issues or decisions.
When you are discussing something or making a decision, go around and address each person in the room. Silence indicates disagreement or at least a lack of commitment to the decision. Ask her if she agrees. Ask for her perspective. Ask her to say so out loud or to voice concern out loud. The key here is to make sure that no silent voices are in the room but that each person has weighed in. People need to speak up and tell the truth during the meeting and not after. One thing here to consider – you will likely need to limit the communication of talkative people and push non-talkative people to communicate. Are one or two people doing all of the talking? Are one or two people being really quiet? Each person needs to talk. You may even need to address this outside of the meeting with individual people encouraging less or more talking depending on the person.
Another way to avoid destructive secret meetings is to:
5. Practice Defer and Commit.
The requirement that decisions be unanimous often means voices are silenced. Instead, create a meeting culture where every voice is heard, and where people have the freedom to disagree. But when decision time comes, If four people are on board and one is not, the one will likely need to defer to the four who are on board. He will need to defer and then commit. Once the meeting is over, there are no side meetings, and there are no dissenting opinions. We all as a team own the decision.
In summary, side meetings are destructive. Side meetings damage relationships. Side meetings sometimes indicate that a problem team member is on board. But side meetings most often happen when you are not leading well. Your commitment is to lead well, so that side meetings don’t happen.
What do you need to change in your leadership to stop these side meetings from happening? Go do it.