Removing "Fatal Obstacles" that Mislead Collaboration

February 1, 2017 jkent-ransom

Removing "Fatal Obstacles" that Mislead Collaboration
Dennis Collins
Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - 11:45 Collaboration Obstacles

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
Albert Einstein

In his latest book, Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking, best-selling author Matthew E. May starts each chapter with a quote from Albert Einstein.

Not only is Einstein considered the most influential physicist of the 20th century by most historians, he also became famous for his thoughts on thinking. As May’s writing shows, many of Einstein’s most famous comments were not about his scientific breakthroughs – such as his special and general theories of relativity – but the thought processes he used to arrive at those innovations.

May’s use of Einstein quotes is one reason we’ve featured Brain Game in our last two posts and plan to continue doing so for several more. Like Einstein, May is a thinker who thinks a lot about thinking and then shares his refined thought processes with others in simple terms so they can polish their thinking, too.

We enjoy May’s – and Einstein’s – work because, as providers of conferencing and collaboration solutions and services, we encourage business people to think before they meet. In fact, we believe thinking about the way you think is the best means of ensuring all your interactions – whether voice, visual, virtual or some mix of all three – are efficient and effective.

That’s why our last post explained how the seven “fatal flaws” of thinking that May identifies in Brain Game become what we call seven “fatal obstacles” to collaborating successfully. Now, with the next few installments of our series, we’ll shift to exploring collaborative paths around these “obstacles.”

3 Misleading Thinking Flaws May that Generate Incorrect Assumptions and Faulty Conclusions

1. Leaping

When a team of business thinkers starts developing solutions before devoting any time to considering the problem at hand.

2. Fixation

When a business team addresses new challenges with old ways of thinking.

3. Overthinking

When a team of problem-solvers ignores the constraints of a situation, raising issues for consideration that complicate rather than clarify matters.


Next, recall from our last post that we believe May’s three “misleading” flaws can become obstacles to successful collaboration because they “mislead” meeting participants along counterproductive paths

3 Misleading Thinking Flaws Become these 3 Collaboration Flaws

1. Jumping

When a team leader calls a meeting of one or more team members without stating a purpose and providing an agenda. And/or when one or more members of a team agrees to attend a meeting without asking the purpose and requesting an agenda.

2. Grinding

When a business team approaches every meeting for any purpose with the same format without adjusting for conditions (e.g., time of day, in person, online, etc.), participants (e.g., staff, clients, cross-functional team, etc.) subject matter (e.g., financial reporting, project planning, feedback session, etc.) or other varying circumstances.

3. Packing

When a meeting leader issues an agenda with too many topics to cover in the time available. And/or when one or more meeting participants introduces items or issues for discussion unrelated or tangential to the agenda.


3 Ways to Fix Misleading Thinking

  • Framestorming encourages thinkers to focus on “questions rather than answers.”
  • Inversion directs thinkers to imagine an “Opposite World” where business conditions are the reverse of the current reality.
  • Prototesting is a simplified method for exploring real-world scenarios without the creation of a complete prototype or the time commitment of formal testing.

For full elaboration of how these fixes work, we defer to Brain Game chapters 1-3. Right now, let’s examine how the spirit of these techniques can be applied to removing our “obstacles” to collaboration:

Ground “Jumping” by starting with “Why?”

Every business meeting should have an agenda. And when creating and communicating an agenda, meeting leaders should first answer the question “Why?” so the purpose of a meeting always is the first issue participants see or hear. This approach is a mix of Framestorming and Prototesting because the emphasis is on vital questions and the execution need not be complicated. For example, consider using this simple template statement at the top of an agenda:

“We’re meeting today to __________.”

If meeting invitees don’t see or hear this statement of purpose, they need not challenge or confront the arranger. Instead, they should politely reframe the statement as a question:

“Are we meeting today to __________?”

Smooth “Grinding” by ending with “How?”

Adjusting meetings to varying conditions doesn’t mean developing a new format for each new purpose. There’s a much simpler fix: Conclude sessions by discussing “How” participants should proceed before the next meeting. We explored this approach in our post “5 Collaborative Questions to Ask at the End of Meetings.”

Open-ended “How” questions adjust for changing circumstances by probing for intent, provoking creativity, clarifying thoughts and pursuing multiple paths for taking discussions to deeper levels next time. This approach is a combination of Inversion and Framestorming due to the hypothetical style of questioning that imagines future outcomes in present terms.

Lighten the “Packing” load by limiting agendas with the “Rule of Primes”

In our post “5 Tips to be a Better Collaborative Communicator,” we mention the “Rule of Primes,” which proposes putting items on lists only in sets of 3s, 5s or 7s. But when aiming to discourage Packing, keep in mind that 1 and 2 are prime numbers, too. So, if you’re leading a meeting, we suggest keeping agendas to no more three issues. If you feel five or seven items are necessary, then you should consider scheduling an additional meeting to cover the extra points rather than extend the session at hand. And if you’re a participant, we advise confining your contributions to agendas to one or two submissions. This type of protocol for planning agendas is akin to Prototesting because the process is restricted.

Thinking flaws that become obstacles to collaboration not only can mislead meetings, they can limit a team’s progress to mediocre results. That’s the topic of our next Brain Game post.

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