Tuesday, 06 October 2009 00:00

The Business Analyst's Requirements Meeting from Hell!

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Secrets to Managing the Difficult Personalities in Your Meetings

Business Analyst Sherry Martin couldn't stop thinking about her last team meeting as she walked down the hall towards her office. She's leading a team charged with developing a requirements document for a hot new IT product, and things have not been going well. Slamming her office door behind her, she let out an exasperated scream and looked for something to punch! Her team was driving her absolutely crazy and she channeled Scarlett O'Hara as she proclaimed, "I will never run a meeting like that again!" Her problem in a nutshell boiled down to three really difficult personalities that continually recurred on her team. These personalities were indeed a cancer, not just infecting the team and its results but also spreading throughout the group and infecting individual team members as well.

Sherry needs an antidote... now!

Here's a little help for Sherry...and for you! Let's explore these common dysfunctional personalities and take a look at how to effectively manage them.

The Dominator

We've all experienced "the dominator" in one way or another. Some people tend to dominate discussion simply because they're excited and over zealous. These can actually be valuable members of the team if we can find appropriate approaches to harness and manage all that positive energy. Unfortunately, most of us are more familiar with the other type of dominator - the overly aggressive, bullying personality that tramples on others' comments and may attempt to hijack the meeting completely! Sometimes, these dominators are overly negative ("That'll never work here!"), and other times they just won't let anyone else get a word in edgewise. In either case, dominators can certainly sour not just the effectiveness of the meeting but also the morale of the team.

Techniques for Effectively Managing the Dominator

  • Thank the dominator for the feedback and ask for others' input (e.g. "Steven, that's an interesting idea. Let's see if others have suggestions as well.")
  • Reiterate the dominator's comment, write it visibly for all to see, and then ask for other ideas to complete the list. (e.g. "Steven, it sounds like you're recommending that we use these three vendors as our short list...is that correct? That's a great suggestion. Let's compile a list of several suggestions, then discuss them all. We'll list your suggestion as "A" on the list. I'd like to get at least three other suggestions from the team. What do others think?")
  • Instead of having the group respond to an issue verbally, ask them to take 2 minutes to jot down their idea, issue, or recommendations on a post it instead. Then ask each person to share one comment they wrote.
  • Suggest the group use the round robin technique (go around the room asking each person to share a comment) and start at the opposite end of the table from the dominator (e.g. "This is such an important issue that I want to be sure I'm getting everyone's ideas. Let's do a quick round robin starting with Jill...")
  • Call on a few people you haven't heard from (e.g. "Michael, what are your thoughts on this issue?")
  • Take a break and solicit the dominator's support offline ("Steven, you've brought up several key points. I'm hoping to get some of the other team members involved in the discussion to hear their ideas as well. Some members of the group are not as assertive, but I want to be sure we hear from them.")
  • Break the group into pairs or triads and let them discuss an issue in those smaller groups before initiating a large group discussion
  • Gain agreement with your team to use a physical object (e.g. sponge football) to balance discussion. The person holding the football has the floor, and they must toss it to someone else once they make their point.

The Multi-Tasker

Increasingly, we're seeing more and more multi-taskers in our meetings. Aptly named, they're the ones whose attention constantly darts between the meeting leader and any number of other tantalizing distractions (e.g. PDA, laptop, reading material, etc.). Indeed, the multi-tasker is physically present but mentally elsewhere.

Techniques for Effectively Managing the Multi-Tasker

Bring the issue up to the group during first few meetings and decide as a group how you want to handle the technology distractions...options may include

  • Using a "technology drop box" at the front of the meeting room and agreeing to drop it in prior to meeting start
  • Limiting meeting time to one hour to ensure participants aren't away for too long
  • Agreeing on 15 minute technology breaks every hour
  • Participants bring a buddy to "cover" for them in case they have to step out for a call

Use facilitation techniques that keep participants actively engaged

  • Round robin
  • Active questioning
  • Affinity diagramming
  • Sub team work
  • Dot voting
  • Use a circular or U shape room setup that allows you to easily walk around (and near) various participants quite easily
  • Agree upon a mild punishment for texting, emailing, etc. during the meeting. One group used a PDA jar and violators had to put in $5 per violation. (Money was later used for team lunches)

The Rambler

The rambler can seriously derail a meeting with their circuitous, protracted, rambling commentary. Oftentimes, the rambling strays into areas bearing little resemblance to the topic at hand. The rambler can not only significantly extend the length of a meeting but also completely alter the meeting content, thereby minimizing the team's efficiency and effectiveness.

Techniques for Effectively Managing the Rambler

  • Have a printed agenda (on a flip chart or whiteboard) in the room. When conversation strays off topic, stand up and point to the specific agenda topic to refocus the group.
  • Include timings for each section of the agenda so you can more easily focus the group on the time allotted for each discussion point. Possibly ask someone on the team to provide a five minute warning before the scheduled end time for each section of the agenda.
  • Simply raise your hand and interrupt discussion to ask if the conversation is on topic and helping the group reach their goal for the meeting. ("Guys, allow me to step in for a moment to ask whether the vendor discussion is relevant for this particular section of the agenda?")
  • Introduce the Parking Lot at the beginning of the meeting and announce that you'll interrupt discussion to place any off-topic discussion points on the parking lot to help keep the group on track. ("Jill, I realize that you feel strongly about the inventory control issue, but I'm wondering if we should try to resolve that now or could we possibly place it in the parking lot?") Review all parking lot items at the close of the meeting and assign action items for each.
  • Assign someone on the team to act as the "rambler police" (use a badge if appropriate). This person is responsible for raising their hand anytime the discussion veers off topic.
  • Consider using the ELMO technique. ELMO = "Everybody, Let's Move On!" Whenever anyone in the group feels the group is rambling too much, they're expected to pick up the ELMO doll in the center of the table.

Don't forget to leave your comments below


Dana Brownlee is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. which operates www.meetinggenie.com, an online resource for meeting facilitation tips and instructional DVDs.

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