Manage Challenging Behaviours Part 2: The Non-Contributor

In preparation to facilitate new groups, I’m often warned by the leader about the team member who won’t participate. They mean that there will be one or more persons who sit in the room, but don’t speak. While this might be typical behaviour, I find that often – with the right atmosphere and attention – their contribution level rises. Introversion can be part of a natural inclination, and reticence may also be due to a negative work history or hidden team dynamics. Quieter team members may have been punished by a previous boss or be in secret conflict with a peer. Here are some ideas when you want to engage all members of your team:

  • Speak honestly and often about the importance of teamwork and expectations around meeting behaviours. Science proves that the most productive teams share air-space equally – in other words, everyone speaks. Once you set the norm of teamwork needing a shared space, you can do plenty to lead the way. A simple process like a “round robin” – where you go around the table and each person gives input – can even out the voices.
  • When others gang up against one person, make it stop. Teach everyone respectful listening and slow down the desire to reject ideas as soon as they are given. Concentrate on teaching the team how to thoughtfully consider many perspectives and to build on each others’ half-formed ideas as partners. Balance your agenda time between divergent and convergent conversation.
  • Publish the agenda items before meetings, to give people time to prepare to contribute. Encourage shy members by asking them directly to share their opinions and expertise. Offer to preview their presentation in a one-on-one to boost confidence with speaking skills.
  • Try to facilitate less. In working with a group, do you constantly intervene? Even positive comments – “That’s a great idea” can inadvertently reward the members who speak too much. Are you controlling the conversation? Watch how you react to a team members who is a lone dissenter. (See last week’s blog on managing the Devil’s Advocate).
  • Encourage team meetings when you are away. If it needs to be led, try assigning a quieter member to that role. Show your confidence in them and help them prepare to run the meeting. Invite a subordinate to be a proxy for you in one of your regular meetings. They won’t feel the pressure to contribute in the same way, and they can listen and learn from next level leaders about how to interact in a meeting.
  • If it’s arrogance that is keeping someone quiet (i.e. I don’t have time for this) then put them on a project team where their expertise is required. Not as the lead, but as a contributor. Ask them specifically to present something they have learned back to their peer team.

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