Blame-Storms on the Horizon

I thoroughly enjoyed the medical drama series, “Monday Mornings”.  The television series from TNT revolved around the Monday morning peer review of patient care errors and complications and was cancelled after just one season.  It never built a large audience following.  Perhaps the show was too much like our own dreaded “After Action Review” meetings.  The meeting agenda says you’ll: 1) discuss the outcome of your most recent project,   2) identify successes and opportunities, and, 3) brainstorm potential improvements when planning the organization’s next big initiative. 

Seems innocuous enough, right; maybe even productive.

But the actual meeting can be anything but productive.  In a room full of high-achievers, people shine the light on all of the trouble spots and create a laundry list of things that went wrong.  Brainstorming soon morphs into “Blame Storming”.  Everyone leaves the meeting bruised and battered.  Half call their mothers looking for affirmation.

Laugh because it’s funny.  Cry because it’s true.

On the surface, our focus on problems and trouble spots seems to be in keeping with the spirit of continuous improvement.  Unfortunately, when the meeting is handled poorly, it kills our ability to be productive.

In his groundbreaking research on group dynamics, researcher Marcial Losada identified 15 high performing teams based on profitability, customer satisfaction, and peer reviews.  He then recorded their interactions during planning meetings, contrasting their communications with 26 mid and low performing teams.  He found that the mean “positivity ratio” of the high performers was 2.9 positive comments to every negative comment.  For the low performing teams, the ratio was 0.4 to 1.  He also observed that following bouts of negativity, teams lost their ability to flex their behaviors and to question appropriately.  Team members simply devolved into an endless loop of self-absorbed advocacy for their own positions.

So what’s the learning for us?  In order to encourage high levels of critical thinking in your team meetings, do the following:

  1. Start with the positives:  Unless we acknowledge that there are many strengths we can leverage, there is a danger that we will focus only on our weakness, closing the door to innovation.
  2. Spontaneously appreciate:  When people are challenged, their natural response is to go into fight or flight mode.  To keep people in the collaborative mindset necessary for effective problem solving, first identify the positives of all ideas (and speak them) before offering concerns.
  3. Be generous:  It’s hard to overdo it.  Further research by Barbara Fredrickson at the University of Michigan found there to be an “upper limit” to positivity, but it doesn’t kick in until you reach a ratio of 11:1.  But, make sure your appreciation is genuine, as a lack of sincerity in discussing strengths can do more harm than good.

Employ these tactics consistently at your next series of team meetings, and we are “positive” you will see improved results in your critical thinking.  If you are looking for other ways to develop critical thinking in your organization, just give us a call at (800) 386-5611.  We would love to hear from you.

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Creative Problem Solving | Problem Solving Training | Decision Making | Teaching Critical Thinking Skills | Critical Thinking