In watching organizational politics, it’s a pet peeve of mine to see participants in staff meetings who say nothing during the conversation, month after month. The low participation may be for any number of reasons – perhaps their context is so focused they don’t have perspective on the bigger-picture issues being discussed…perhaps self-esteem issues prevent them from believing in their own ideas enough to voice them…perhaps their ideas have been ignored in the past and they’re frustrated, thus making it the adult equivalent of “I’m taking my ball and going home.”
As I reflected on the dynamic, two leadership lessons jump out at me. First, if you have a seat at the table, use it. Non-participants have made a decision that their contributions don’t matter. They may be right. Or there may be any other number of factors in play that led to perceiving the situation as they have. Organizations that experience this would be better served, in the long run, by the non-participants finding the courage to voice his or her frustration and explore solutions other than simply opting out of participation moving forward. The conversation would be difficult, and likely at times uncomfortable, but it would move the organization to a healthier place. Organizations make a financial investment in their team. The return on this investment is the participation and active engagement by those individuals in pursuit of the mission.
Second, I’m hard-pressed to believe the presiders of these meetings are unaware of what’s happening. As a leader, it’s important we keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening. Assuming the meeting had been organized with the appropriate personnel at the table, these non-participants’ experiences and ideas need to be included in the conversation. Still, these individual’s decision to disengage was unlikely tied to a one-time thing. This indicates that the facilitator either saw the emerging pattern and did not intervene because he didn’t know how or (and possibly worse!) didn’t care. Leadership requires the social grace to facilitate in ways that are comfortable and inclusive. When members feel excluded, the entire team pays a price.
Do you have the right people at your meetings? Are they there for the right reasons? Are you paying attention to the verbal and nonverbal cues from team members who aren’t engaged?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.