Why does such meeting inertia happen? For some, voicing disagreement is difficult. Some may want the meeting to be over, so piping up five minutes before it is scheduled to end brings rancor that has nothing to do with the content. Some may want to just get along. Others believe that the process is working so nothing needs to change.
Yet if you ask leaders they will tell you "it's working" is destructive, even if they subtly invoke it.
Different jobs also have different cultures. In some places, expressing disagreement is seen as completely natural and necessary for good results. In other places, disagreement can be perceived as disrespectful and perhaps even unfair to a colleague, manager or the company. In some cases, ambiguity and misunderstandings can cause small disagreements to balloon and feel large and unmanageable.
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What would help? Voicing concerns or disagreement early. That does not mean it has to be the same person over and over, every scientist has been to meetings where someone asks a question as a way to go into a 15 minute monologue about their work, but if someone agrees with your concern privately, they are more likely to act in a support role even if they would not have spoken up themselves.
It is possible for a group to function together just by everyone working independently and implicitly adapting the work to each other. Constantly disagreeing is not helpful, and long discussions can often be perceived as hampering progress. But when something unexpected happens, alternative understandings are often needed. Groups need to know they can disagree, and how to do it constructively.
Here are 10 training tips for how to constructively disagree. Like anything else, practice will help.
Ask for the behavior you want more of, not less of, from others.
When you get criticized - listen and don't defend yourself. Show that you are grateful.
Make decisions and acknowledge others' decisions.
Appoint a person who challenges the decisions made (devil's advocate). Take turns being in this role.
Challenge routines and habits.
Dare to challenge the expert.
Ask why. Request explanations.
Practise arguing for the views of others.
Be honest and clear. Don't package messages. But be constructive.
"Step on toes."
That last one requires some additional thought, because many teams have a lot going on, and when that happens people on the team are basically afraid to step on each other's toes due to concern about halting progress or starting over. The result may be that teams work at reduced power then. So step on toes but be sure to make it about the issue and not the individual.