Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to deal with stalled meetings.

Post 470 - Most of us have a one sided view of the world and find it difficult to change when we're asked to think about a view that differs from our own. During meetings, some people argue their own point of view at length, and never seem to stop. How to solve the problems of time wasted in meetings? How to focus more on the points that really matter instead of concentrating on unrelated and inappropriate topics? How to reduce or stop endless discussions? How to improve communication and decision-making in groups?

Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats is a good technique for looking at the effects of a decision from a number of different points of view. To improve the quality of communication and decision-making, he suggests looking at the decision "wearing" each of the following "Thinking Hats" in turn. De Bono reports that this process reduces time spent in meetings by 20 to 90 percent, based on experiences reported to him since his book of the same name was first published. Each represents a different style of thinking as explained below:

• White Hat:
Here, look at the information that's available, and see what can be learned from it. Look for gaps in knowledge, and either try to fill them or take them into account. This is where you analyze past trends, and try to extrapolate from historical data. Care in characterizing what's actually known is important here.

• Red Hat:
Wearing the red hat, look at the decision using intuition and gut reaction. Think about how other people will react emotionally, and try to understand the intuitive responses of those who don't fully understand your reasoning. This allows emotion and skepticism to be brought into what would otherwise be a purely rational decision.

* Black Hat:
Using black hat thinking, look at things pessimistically, cautiously and defensively. Try to see why ideas and approaches being considered mightn't work. By highlighting the weak points in a plan or course of action, you can eliminate them, change your approach, or develop contingency plans to counter any problems that may arise. Black hat thinking helps persistently pessimistic people be positive and creative. Another benefit of this technique is that many successful people get so used to thinking positively that they often can't anticipate problems in advance, which leaves them ill-prepared for difficulties later on.

• Yellow Hat:
The yellow hat encourages positive thinking. An optimistic viewpoint helps to see all the benefits of the decision and to spot the opportunities that arise from it. Yellow hat thinking helps you to keep on going when everything looks gloomy and difficult. This view is helpful in opening up the possibilities.

• Green Hat:
The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It's a freewheeling way of thinking, where there's little criticism of ideas. Most ideas begin with the green hat and then get analyzed from the black and yellow hat point of view. This is the entrepreneurial hat - fertile, creative, provocative.

• Blue Hat:
The Blue Hat stands for process control and can be used to move between different thinking styles. This is the hat to wear when chairing meetings. Running into difficulties because ideas are running dry? Direct people's activity into green hat thinking. Then, when contingency plans are needed, ask for black hat thinking, and so on. You can use these different hats in meetings to help defuse disagreements when people with different thinking styles discuss the same issue.

People learn best when they're playing, and the six hat approach clearly encourages a spirit of play. By having everyone in a group focus on a specific element (Hat) at the same time, not individually, this technique reduces the amount of personality-based conflict, encourages more participation, and gives validation to many different ways to present the question at hand. It also suspends judgment longer so that more ideas can emerge.

I suggest you give this process a trial run with something unimportant before unleashing it on a big issue. Otherwise, you might be stalled by lack of understanding about how the process works. Keep practicing until you're satisfied that it's working well.

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