Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’

5 Ways to Win the War Against Digital Distractions

10-23 digitally multi-tasking smallIn a 2009 National Public Radio interview, Dr. Clifford Nass, who was a noted Stanford educator, harshly referred to multitaskers as "suckers for distraction and suckers for the irrelevant." He was referring largely to students under the control of their digital devices, but it applies to the business world as well, because multitasking does not increase productivity; it reduces it.

Where multitasking was once considered an essential skill for anyone pursuing advancement in the business world, newer research asserts that the human brain best handles one thing at a time. Unfortunately, most workers are faced with constant interruptions on a daily basis and every digital advance makes matters worse. With a little common sense and dedication, you can take control over digital distractions. Here are five habits to start developing today.

1. Use Personal Peak Times Effectively

Your brain is still more powerful than any electronic device — provided that you schedule your day based on its ebbs and flows.

For example, as a general rule, high-thought level work is best handled in the period from late morning to midday due to body changes after awakening. This is the time to turn off any unnecessary devices and allow your brain to handle high-level tasks, such as creating presentations or analyzing financial reports. Between about noon and 4pm, distractions take hold of the brain more easily, so it makes sense to hold off on emails, texts and any other unessential digital interruptions until this time.

Of course, not everyone follows the same circadian rhythm. You need to monitor your own patterns to determine when to put all unnecessary devices away and when to allow distractions.

2. Exercise Device Control

Just about everyone in the working world has a PC. Most have smart phones and an increasing number of workers have tablets, as well. But, how many of these devices pertain strictly to business?

Electronic devices make it easy to take your work home with you, but they also let you bring your home life into the office. Granted, this is only fair if you want any form of work-life balance. But, if you want your work quality to be high, you need to avoid the temptation of personal distractions whenever possible. Keep work-related devices active while on the job and schedule appropriate time into your day for device-checking and social media updates.

3. Choose the Right Device for the Task

Just because you can browse the web from your smart phone, doesn't make it the right tool for remaining on-task. Jumping from window to window on a three-inch screen or being forced to close an app when you run out of memory are other types of distractions. Don't be fooled into thinking that a phone in the hand will save valuable time. Even if you have to walk over to your PC or tablet, you will save time and focus by having the power and screen size to properly perform the job at hand.

4. Put Web Site Distractions Off to the Side

Speaking of distractions, every web page seems to have a million links. It's just about impossible to avoid clicking tempting web page links, but a great way to forget what you're doing is to jump from link to link. So, open those links in a new tab or window, and immediately return to the original page to maintain your primary flow. Once you finish with the present page, the distraction will be there when you want it — if you haven't lost interest.

5. Placemark the Original Task

How much time do you spend back-tracking when you return to a previously-interrupted task? You cannot avoid important customer calls, but you can get in the habit of marking your place before you start talking. So, if the phone rings while you are mid-sentence in a report or adding up numbers in a column, ask the caller to hold on for just a moment. Finish that sentence, or at least jot down a quick note describing where you left off. Don't worry — the interrupter will understand.

Only the Cream of Interruptions Should Rise to the Top

Scheduling interruptions is a lofty goal, but no one — from office workers to top brass — is immune from someone waiting in the wings to disrupt that schedule. Interruptions may be unavoidable, but they also short change the people who need your help. Not every interruption ranks priority one. Power off unnecessary devices and take a critical look at remaining interruptions to give top-notch service to your customers and your company.

The Top 5 Ways to Keep Remote Employees Connected & Engaged

10-19 remote workers smallIf you want to bring remote workers together and make them feel connected to your company, it is essential that you take advantage of the communications tools available today. Technology has changed the way the world works, and this is especially true for remote workers.

While all of our operations is located at our headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, we do have a growing number of sales representatives and software developers that work remotely. These individuals are essential to our company’s success, and we want them to feel just as connected to the company as our team members who work at our headquarters.

We have found that the five tools below significantly improve communication with remote team members, keep them informed of office activities, and keep them connected to their coworkers.

Regular team calls

This may seem like a no-brainer, but scheduling a call that works for everyone’s schedule is no small feat. However, constant and consistent communication is extremely important to moving projects along and discussing initiatives and goals. Try to touch base with your entire team at least once a week. If blocking off an hour may not be feasible, try for shorter, more frequent check-ins. This will hold team members accountable, will keep everyone up-to-date on what each team member is working on, and can help identify team members or projects that may need extra support.

Cloud Phone System

Moving communications systems to the cloud is a essential to keep employees connected, such as moving to a cloud phone system. You can route calls to these employees from your main office, take advantage of extension dialing, and utilize a mobile app to stay connected on the go.

Additionally, the mobile apps for these systems, such as the Nextiva App, come with additional features including IM and presence for easy communication from anywhere.

An Instant Message System

Remember the days of AIM? Instant message systems have matured from a social chat tool for teens and are now essential communications tools many of us, myself included, couldn’t imagine getting through a workday without. As the name indicates, an instant message system allows you to send messages to your coworkers in different locations and receive an immediate response. This tool is great for quick questions were sending an email is unnecessary, and the best part is it won’t clog your inbox! At Nextiva we rely on Jabber or the Nextiva App, but there are a variety of tools out there your business can use, and many are free.  

A Company-focused Blog

Our Culture team began an internal blog at Nextiva about a year ago and it has been a great platform to keep everyone connected. Everyone’s inboxes are overflowing these days and it’s easy to miss internal emails about office activities. Creating a central place to house all of your company communication will help keep everyone informed of office activities, product updates, HR resources, without having to check multiple places for the information. Also, blogs, especially ones powered by WordPress, are easy to customize and update to suite your unique needs and culture.

Employee Engagement Activities that are not Location-Based

Focus on creating employee engagement activities that all team members can participate in, regardless of their physical location. Voting activities or a weekly internal news show that highlights everything going on in the company that week is a great way to share information and make employees feel connected. Highlighting remote employees via “department discoveries” or internal interviews will help employees in different locations to get to know each other.

These five tools can be implemented in every business, and will help improve the satisfaction of your remote workers. Are there any tools you rely on to improve communication with remote team members and make them feel more connected to your company?

The Top 3 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture

Attracting top talent to your business is now more competitive than ever. Gone are the days of focusing only on compensation as your company’s main differentiating factor. Today’s workforce wants more than just a nice paycheck, especially when it comes to Millennials. Now people want to work for a company that shows appreciation for its employees in more ways then just money, provides advancement opportunities, has an inviting and fun work environment, and who’s mission and culture aligns with their values.

At Nextiva, we’ve found there are three ways you can improve your company culture to increase the overall happiness of your employees. And as any business owner or team leader knows, if you’re employees are happy, they’re more efficient, productive, and innovative.

1. Open communication between employees and management

To have truly open communication, your team must feel like their thoughts, opinions, and concerns are heard. This starts with creating a company culture that is void of egos and focused on two-way communication—talking and listening. Also, trust is a large part of the equation that takes time to establish, but if you stay consistent, it can be done. Trust is built from listening, following through on the things you said you would take action on, and creating an environment where employees feel supported. Fostering a culture that values everyone’s unique ideas can lead to amazing business advancement and growth. You never know who may have a great idea to improve a process, product or service, so stay open minded and listen to your employees.

OCEO Appreciation Day

2. Show your appreciation

This cannot be reiterated enough. Positive reinforcement will do wonders for individual and company-wide moral. If you show your employees appreciation on an individual and group basis, they’ll be more productive, happier and more likely to grow their career with your company.

Showing appreciation and recognition makes people feel valued, and they’re more willing to go the extra mile for you and your business. You don’t need to offer extravagant prizes to show appreciation. We’ve found that things such as a coveted parking spot, an extra vacation day, free lunch, etc. all make a big impact.

Additionally, we focus on initiatives and events that highlight individuals, teams, and departments. For example, our dedicated Culture team plans appreciation days throughout the year for each department, and once a year we highlight five individuals at our company event that made a positive impact on our culture and company. These awards are a huge honor and voted on by the management team. Also, team members are encouraged to give shout-outs to employees who go above and beyond for others in the company on an ongoing basis.

10-8 Nextiva Company Culture

3. Create career paths and advancement opportunities

No matter the size of your business, you can create career paths and advancement opportunities for your team. If you don’t give your team something to strive for, whether it is a raise, promotion, continuing education opportunities, or other means of advancing their career and improving skill-set, they’re going to look for a company that does offer these benefits.

Just as an athletic team works hard so they can win a game, your employees are also working hard towards their own individual goals. This aspect of your company culture is a direct result of creating an environment that promotes open communication and shows appreciation for its employees. Check in with your employees on an ongoing basis and ask what they’re interested in and the direction they’d like their career to go in your organization. From there, work on creating a development plan and projects that will help them acquire the skills and experience they need to get to the next level. This will not only benefit them, but the company overall.

Top Salesperson

Building a good company culture doesn’t happen overnight….

Building a strong company culture takes a lot of time, effort and consistency from all levels of the organization. Also, focus on fostering an environment that is in line with your companies mission and values. What works for one company may be not be feasible for another, but the three areas listed above—open communication, appreciation, and advancement opportunities—are universal to all organizations. How you execute this is up to you, but we guarantee it will improve the work environment, increase your team’s productivity, and ultimately help your business grow.

Mondays with Mike: 8 Ways To Keep Employees From Wasting Your Time

Though I’m on the road a lot, I love the days when I work from my office.  I get so much from my staff – inspiration, constructive criticism, and an excitement that only comes from pulling together to accomplish great things.  But we all know that putting people together in a workspace often leads to serious time black holes – conflicts, gossip, and confusion that eat away at productivity.  Here are my eight tips for keeping you and your staff on track:

  1. Institute a daily huddle.  I run my daily huddle standing up.  People don’t settle in with a cup of coffee and notepad for doodling.  I cover the day’s objectives and challenges, and we get right back to work.  It’s not a gab session, and it’s not interactive.  I transmit critical information to keep us on the same page, and we get right back to work.
  2. Maintain 360 communication.  Though I don’t use my huddle for gathering information from my staff, keeping lines of communication open is critical for eliminating confusion.  Sometimes I’m the problem; if I haven’t clearly delineated responsibilities and goals, I need one of my staff to let me know what needs clarification.  Keep your door and your ears open.
  3. Manage conflict.  Conflict is inevitable.  You can’t avoid it altogether, which means you must actively manage it.  Watch for inner-office rivalries and disagreements and step in to diplomatically resolve conflict when it’s necessary.  Ignoring problems can result in bigger blowups later on.
  4. Eliminate chronic problems.  The 80-20 rule holds true when it comes to problem staff:  80 percent of your problems are caused by 20 percent of your staff.  Warn and then weed out the folks disrupting your company’s progress.
  5. Trust your staff.  If you realize you’re dealing with a mountain of questions from staff who are afraid of making the wrong move, then it could be the stakes are too high.  You have to realize that mistakes will occur, and you will benefit from creating a climate in which your employees learn when it’s okay to take a chance.
  6. Get the right people doing the right things the right way.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, and taking a step back to observe how your office runs can highlight staff members who aren’t in their ideal positions.  Shuffling responsibilities can make your company far more efficient.
  7. Give your staff the pride of ownership.  If your employees see a personal benefit from improving the bottom line, they’re far more likely to give it their all.  Profit sharing and phantom equity can be powerful motivators.  You can also include an update on the company’s health as part of your daily huddle to keep your staff focused on the ultimate mutual goal.
  8. Praise your staff publicly.  Not only do you want to reinforce the good behavior of your stellar staff members, but you also want to make sure you’re not spending time publicly addressing undesirable behavior.  Praise in public, and chastise in private.  Great work earns your staff recognition and a sense of satisfaction.

Finally, here’s a bonus tip: make your workplace fun.  Now, don’t get me wrong:  We work hard, and in fact I’ve instituted library hours in the office – chunks of time when it’s all business and we work quietly.  But during break time, you might walk in on a nerf gun battle or trashcan basketball.  We work hard, and we take the time to blow off steam so we can focus better when we return to our desks.

Secret Handshake? Why Rituals Are Critical to Your Business Culture

10-5 company rituals smallDoes your company have a secret handshake? Probably not, but you may want to think about creating one. Look at any sports team and see the special things they do before, during and after a game. They prepare and celebrate in a way that is unique to them.

I saw one of the best examples of this while I was traveling to New Zealand and witnessed the national rugby team, The All Blacks playing a match. Their ritual of doing the legendary Haka, a native Maori dance before each game is legendary.  Paolo Guenzi, an Associate Professor of Marketing, Bocconi University in Milan, Italy states in Harvard Business Review that “It expresses the team’s pride in their heritage and teammates. Neuroscientific research shows that rituals like the Haka trigger feelings of connectivity, timelessness, and meaning, which stimulate mental flow states. These, in turn, reduce anxiety and increase energy and focus.”

This has also been tested by Francesca Gino, associate professor of business administration, at Harvard Business School. He conducted a series of studies and got people to do tasks that caused anxiety. Half the subjects had to perform the stress-inducing task without performing any ritual, while the other half were taught a ritual to carry out before the task. According to Professor Gino, the ritual in itself can be nonsensical. For example, Gino had one ritual in where the participants were asked to draw a picture of how they were feeling, sprinkle salt on the picture and then tear it into five pieces. He reveals that “we saw lower physical arousal and there were real differences in performance, [among those performing the ritual]…Ritual puts you in a mindset of ‘I am going to do this’.”

Rituals in a company are such an important part of any culture. It makes all employees feel like they are part of an exclusive club. Like in sports, it creates a share social identity which drives the team to deliver a better and happier performance.

A company that I worked at had a ritual of giving annually a Mercedes luxury car to the top sales manager. The following year, if another manager won the car, the previous winner had to drive the car to the new winner’s location wherever they were in the country. This ritual gave an incentive not to lose the prize each year since the managers were spread around the U.S. Similarly, top sales performers at Mary Kay Cosmetics are awarded driving privileges of pink Cadillac’s.  Some companies ring a gong when a new sale is made. 

At Gentle Giant, a Somerville, Mass.-based moving company, they host "The Stadium Run" up and down the stairs at Harvard to highlight its culture of hard work. For this team, it has become a rite of passage ritual for new movers.

Here are rituals every small business owner should add to their company:

  1. Awards ceremonies. A lot of companies give out prizes for outstanding performances. But, the successful organizations go one step further and give awards for things that are a bit more quirky with some elaborate pomp and circumstance. For example, the "Passing of the Pillars" is an important ritual at Boston Scientific's facility. When an employee has a tough project, they are "awarded" a small two-foot high plaster-of-Paris pillar to show that they have the support other team members.
  2. Team building exercises. These may be company outings, contests or sports team activities. They can be specific exercises that get them to solve a problem working together. These should be done in an open, creative and non-judgmental environment.
  3. Celebrations. This can revolve around holidays or birthdays. But, a more effective ritual is to create a company’s unique celebrations: Formal Fridays, Milkshake Monday, Pina- Colada hour, Ice Cream Sandwich day, and Crazy sock or hat day.

Let some of the rituals happen organically from the employees. Observe what the group does naturally and then reinforce them formally. A secret handshake may actually do the trick!

How to Retain Talented Employees In Your Small Business

9-23 Retail employees smallIn your business, your team is everything. Even if you follow the guidelines from my blog on how to hire your first employee on the best practices for hiring and interviewing candidates, some bad seeds will still find ways to slip through the cracks. It’s not just poor workers who will affect how your team pool changes. Millenials, who comprise the largest generation currently working, have exhibited a trend of job-hopping in search of the best job with the highest compensation. The goal for you, as a small business owner, is to prevent your most talented employees from jumping ship. Here are some tips for how to retain your best and brightest employees.

1. Think Long-Term

If it’s financially impossible to increase an employee’s compensation, you need to remind him/her that one day it will be. Be sure that all of your employees have a concrete idea of what your vision is for your business and what role they’ll play in helping your get there. Make them understand why you do what you do. If you voice how much you believe in yourself and your team, the desire to stay working for you and helping you reach that goal will follow. If you treat your employees well, they’ll trust you enough to know that when you become successful, so will they.

2. Compensate Fairly

Depending on the skill and education levels you require for your position, compensation will play a large role in obtaining and keeping talented people in your circle. A paycheck and its accompanying benefits are a huge factor when workers consider leaving for another employer. Do you offer health benefits, a retirement package or an annual review during which good work is rewarded with a raise? You should consider all of these things and figure out compensation that is fair to keep you best employees

3. Give Perks

While small business owners have the desire to compensate employees very well, we all know money can get in the way. If you can’t financially afford to pay your employees exactly what they deserve, figure out what else you can do to balance the scale. Sculpt a laidback, but professional, work culture where creativity and inter-office friendships are encouraged. Offer paid vacations and sick days, maternity and paternity leave or the use of your equipment for an employee’s side project. Time is free, and if you feel that your employees might deserve more than what they see in their paychecks, there’s no harm in offering other benefits to them.

4. Offer Growth Opportunities

Talented employees are people who crave responsibility and growth. If you’re sure an employee is someone you want to keep on your team, offer him/her the opportunity to take on more challenging and engaging work. This will keep your employee interested while also preventing the job from becoming mundane or predictable. Keep your talented employees on their toes with more demands. They will see and feel the trust and faith you have in them.

You need your employees and they need you too. You will run across your fair share of bad employees during your time as an entrepreneur, but when you begin adding really valuable, talented employees to your team you need to know how to hold on them. It will be the best thing you can do for your business.

Four Ways to Make Employee Peer Reviews Effective

9-5 peer reviews smallMany employees and managers alike quake with fear when they learn that their company is implementing a system that involves peers in the performance review process. Employees see writing reviews as a waste of time, even as they foresee co-worker conflict in their futures. Recognizing that peer reviews are not typically accurate, managers see them as an unnecessary complication to an already-stressful process.

The good news is that well-designed peer review programs can add value to performance reviews. Here are four ways to make them effective.

1. Choose Appropriate Reviewers for Each Employee

On the surface, it seems kinder and gentler to allow employees to choose the peers they want to write their reviews, but this approach can go wrong in two primary ways. At one extreme, friends give gushing praise to each other. At the other end of the coin, co-workers become overly-critical in an attempt to appear fair. Either way, you cannot fully trust the feedback that you receive to be accurate.

As a manager, you are in the best position to choose the right employees to review the work of their peers. Naturally, your decision needs include peers who regularly work together — and whose work may be affected by the employee who is under review. You also have to consider interpersonal relationships. While you don't want to choose a best friend, you also don't want to select a clear competitor.

Whomever you choose, make sure that everyone understands that your choice is as confidential as wage and salary information. Without confidentiality, the peer review process can easily lead to significant morale issues.

2. Provide Reviewers with Detailed Guidelines

Not all employees are managers; they probably have little experience and training to accurately review a peer’s performance. Avoid essay questions in favor of a set of multiple-choice questions that you want them to answer. Their choices can range from "Exceptional" on the high end, and avoid overly-negative terms for the low-end score. "Needs Improvement" might be as negative as you want to go. Then, make sure that they clearly understand the precise definition for each point on the scale.

Just as important, make sure that all employees understand the overall purpose of their peer reviews. While they may provide managers with new insights into their employees, they cannot directly affect any employee's official performance rating.

3. Ask the Right Questions

Employees are not privy to each other's job descriptions or to the expectations that you may have set forth. It is your job to review each employee's performance. You are the only one who should look at issues like accuracy, speed and errors. Peer reviews should enhance the process by focusing on the factors that you cannot witness on a daily basis.

In other words, the questions on your performance review should not overlap with those on the peer review forms. Co-workers are in the best position to provide meaningful feedback when rating attributes like the following:

  • Ability to solve problems on the fly
  • Natural leadership abilities
  • Willingness to help other employees
  • Ability to interact effectively with employees at all levels within the organization
  • Consistent display of motivation for the job

4. Keep Peer Reviews in Perspective

No manager can constantly observe all activities on the floor, so peer reviews are a good way to help managers gain insight into what's happening when they're not around. But they should not receive too much weight in the formal performance review process. Positive or negative, they might say more about managers' successes and failures than they say about employee performance.

Peer reviews can enlighten your insights about your employees, but they cannot — and should not — carry as much weight as the assessment of the immediate supervisor. In fact, it is best to avoid the temptation to roll the peer rankings in with your own rankings, which are typically more objective.

Peer reviews can be invaluable in helping you address the future direction of your employees. For example, negative reviews pertaining to interpersonal skills or attitude can help you formulate a plan to help an employee improve in these critical areas. Just as important, positive feedback on leadership  and motivational abilities can help you work with employees to identify how they can move upward within the organization.

Peer Reviews Have a Bad Rap

In their original form, employee peer reviews were typically blatantly unfair, wasting time and often causing disharmony within the ranks. With finesse and forethought, however, peer reviews can add a valuable new dimension to the review process.

4 Tips to Improve the Effectiveness of Your Next Conference Call

9-1 Conference Call smallAs workforces become increasingly remote and colleagues are no longer located in the same office, conference calls are now a large part of every day life (that we often dread). For anyone that has participated in a conference call lately, they know this is how they typically unfold. But why succumb to this fate? With a little effort and planning, you can improve the effectiveness of your conference calls. Stop wasting valuable time and increase your company’s productivity with these four steps. Keep them in mind when planning your next conference call.

These steps may seem simple and obvious, but they will change the way you communicate with your colleagues, vendors and customers.

Have a clear leader for the meeting that schedules the call, maintains the balance in conversation and directs questions to the appropriate participant(s).

Defining the leader before the conference call starts will save everyone time and frustration during the call. It will cut down on confusion of who should be speaking when, who will be providing follow-up and action items at the end of the meeting, and who to reach out to for any questions regarding the topics discussed.

Have a clear objective for the call.

This may seem obvious, but think back on recent conference calls you were on. Was the objective of the call clear before it began? This should be step #1 when planning a conference call.  No one wants to feel like they’re wasting their time on a conference call that has no clear direction, focus or purpose.

Define the topics of discussion.  

An agenda (especially one sent before the call) is key to keeping everyone on track and reduce the amount of time wasted on discussions that do not relate to the objective of the meeting. In short, stay on topic and everyone will be very appreciative.

Be mindful of others time.

Punctuality is very important. Start the meeting on time, end the meeting on time (or early), and treat the meeting with the same importance you would an in-person meeting.

Take additional topics of conversation off-line.

Going off track is easy to do, but can quickly derail the entire meeting. Be mindful of the objective of the call and topics of discussion outlined by the leader. Take these additional conversations and topics off-line, especially if they are only relevant to a few people on the call. Everyone will thank you for saying, “We can take this off-line and finish this conversation later.”

We’re always looking for ways to simplify business communication and increase your company’s productivity and efficiency. Nextiva offers an affordable conference call feature, aptly named Meet-Me-Conferencing, that will meet your conferencing needs and improve your company’s communication. Visit to learn more.

Four Ways to Apply Brainstorming to Your Small Business Meetings

To avoid idea freeze, small businesses need to take advantage of the brain power of every person connected with a product or project. If you have experience or knowledge of brainstorming, you already know that the techniques can be a great way to solve problems and generate new ideas … if you can get past a few downsides.

Good news: whether you need ideas from your employees, your vendors or your clients, brainstorming sessions do not have to require excessive and costly time commitments to develop workable solutions for your business issues. The following four techniques can help you use group-think to efficiently generate ideas and solutions.

1. Prepare in Advance to Keep Meetings from Becoming Overnighters

The cardinal rule of brainstorming sessions is that there are no bad ideas. But, there is no rule that says that you have to use meeting time to develop your initial idea list. Loran Nordgren, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, has a practical approach that saves valuable time. When issuing invitations for the meeting, ask participants to propose their ideas in advance.

A prepared idea list instantly eliminates the most time-consuming portion of the meeting. Once participants settle in with their coffee and sweet rolls, they are ready to assess the merits of each idea and build solutions that make sense.

For the record, Nordgren offers an app to help brainstorm participants decouple the idea-generation phase from the evaluation phase. While he stresses that the app can be helpful, he maintains that it is not absolutely necessary.

2. At the Onset, Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

Even if there are no bad ideas, there are impractical ones, so don't get into any serious discussions before you apply a clear set of objective criteria to the list. You can quickly reduce the list by eliminating the unworkable ones. If you know up-front that an idea is too expensive, takes too long or requires resources that you don't have, then you probably don't need to discuss it further.

But, keep in mind that brainstorming sessions can reveal surprising solutions. For example, five people in the meeting might agree that you would have to hire three new employees to assemble a proposed new product. The sixth person, on the other hand, might know how the existing team can do it with minor modifications to the process. This kind of thinking is what brainstorming is all about.

3. Leave Power Trips at the Door

As a small business owner, you may be both co-worker and boss. And, if your brainstorming session involves outside participants — such as vendors or even clients — you might have several bosses in the room. Other participants sometimes remain silent when their ideas conflict with those of the power players.

Highly-ranked meeting participants need to leave all arrogance at the door — and actively encourage conflicting opinions and ideas. Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds. You probably know the attitudes of all of your invitees. If you believe an attendee cannot take an objective look at the ideas of others, it may be best to have them invite a knowledgeable representative who can better embrace the spirit of brainstorming.

4. Avoid Meeting Domination

Even if everyone in the meeting is at the same level, some people are more vocal than others. They instantly have more to say about any topic and they often interrupt when others attempt to voice their thoughts. Clearly, the facilitator needs to gain control over these situations, but it is vital to understand that the outspoken participants are no more at fault than the reserved ones.

This is not the time to reprimand rude behavior or teach conversational courtesy, but you don't want to revert to school days by putting the quiet individuals on the spot ("What do you think, Tommy?). Naturally, the personality profiles of the individuals at the table will drive how you handle any given situation. A great option is to use an extrovert's monologue to solicit other opinions (“George made some great points. Let's spend some time discussing them.").

Rules and Creativity Go Hand-in-Hand

It may seem counterintuitive to equate any form of structure with a free-flow of creativity, but without structure, creativity cannot exist. A brainstorming session based on a few logical rules provides the direction necessary to unleash meaningful ideas.

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