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Teamwork 16 September 2016

Does someone dominate the airtime in your team?

If there’s one thing in the business world that never goes away, it’s the quest to make teams more effective than ever before. After all, great teams build great organisations, and the pressure on them to achieve is real and constant.

Recently I came across a study which suggests that the most productive teams are those where everyone’s voice is heard.  According to the research, “groups where a few people dominated the conversation were less collectively intelligent than those with a more equal distribution of conversational turn-taking.”

As the leader, it’s probably pretty clear to you already who the more dominant are amongst your team. This person (or people) may come up with a lot of good ideas, they may drive the team to take action, they may make sure everyone’s on board and they might be diligent when it comes to evidencing their opinion, but here’s the thing: in doing all of that, they’re unintentionally lowering the collective intelligence of the team.

Equality of airtime is key

By focusing on promoting access to airtime for all of your team members, you’ll be giving space to everyone who currently feels shut out of the conversation – and to those who haven’t noticed or cared yet, but will soon notice the difference once the airwaves are clear for them to speak up.

You’ll be encouraging innovation to flourish, as by allowing ideas from all quarters to cross-pollinate, the team will potentially come up with solutions that are bigger, better, and more creative than before. You’ll be boosting morale, as nobody should feel disenfranchised by any other team member. And you’ll definitely see an increase in the effectiveness of the team, as the ability to handle multiple information sources and work-streams is infinitely larger than any one individual could process.

Turning equality into reality

To reach this state of equilibrium, you’ll have to take a step back whenever your team interacts, and take a cold, hard look at who is making most use of the airwaves.  Watch for patterns that emerge: does someone tend to shrink into silence in the face of someone with a lot to say? Are there people who are resting on their laurels, safe in the knowledge that someone is speaking on their behalf? Or is the room perhaps filled with frustrated people who wish they could get a word in edgeways?

If you want to promote the ‘equal airtime’ theory, you’re going to have to come up with some ways to make sure that the intention to provide equality is turned into reality.

A structured approach

Perhaps, instead of letting meetings be a free-for-all, where everyone is given the chance to chip in (but few are doing so) you might want to institute a structure instead. For example, once a topic has been mooted, everyone is given one minute to give their response, then one minute to answer any questions that may arise from that. In this way, you’re not just encouraging everyone to speak up, you’re making it a requirement of being part of a seriously effective team meeting – and, of course, a seriously effective team.

Shared leadership

Or, perhaps, if you – or someone else – always chairs the meetings, you could create a system where everyone gets their day in the hot seat. And when each person takes charge, they’re allowed to add one thing of their choice to the agenda. That way you’re giving people the opportunity to make their interests and ideas heard, but nobody should feel that taking on the mantle of leader has been sprung on them.

Up the team game

My suggestion – in the spirit of being heard – is to bring up this very topic at your next team meeting and ask your team how they would like to address any inequity that exists. It’s possible that it is a real factor, but it’s been the status quo for so long that it’s ceased to be a burning issue. Well, the research suggests that making it a burning issue will seriously up your team’s game in the long run. So give it a go at your next team meeting and see where it takes you. Just make sure you listen to every voice in the room – and not just the loudest.

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