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10 Strategies to Deal With Power Dynamics In Your Meetings

Power Dynamics in Meetings
November 9, 2021 11:26 am

When it’s the Boss Sabotaging Meeting Effectiveness

At one time or another, most of us have experienced a leader sabotage the agenda, dominate the discussion or openly negate staff input – behaviours that effectively shut down staff from contributing. On the other hand, some of you have simply never had the chance to collaborate with upper management, so when confronted with the prospect, have no idea how to proceed, or fear intervening could result in a CLM (Career Limiting Move)! In both instances you may lack a model for how to effectively ensure it’s safe for staff to provide real input. But a critical role of a facilitator is to ensure staff feel safe and empowered to speak their minds, which requires strategies to manage the power dynamics in meetings, including a challenging boss.

Should You Leave the Boss Off the Invite List?

If you’re running the meeting and can determine who is invited to the meeting, one option may be to not invite the boss, then there’s no threat of them inhibiting creativity or dominating the conversation. However, by doing this, you potentially deprive the group of its greatest ally. For one thing, management presence is important – they typically have organizational wisdom and may understand what will likely meet upper management approval if required. More importantly, bosses have influence – they can help the group swiftly achieve their goals in ways that other staff, with less access to resources, could not. Also, with the right level of engagement, the boss’ participation can be a powerful force for demonstrating commitment to the topics and role-modeling expected levels of participation.

The Best Opportunity to Deal with Challenging Power Dynamics is Before the Meeting

The pre-existing dynamics between management and staff will determine the techniques a facilitator uses to run a successful session. If pre-meeting interviews or past meeting experiences indicate you may be dealing with a domineering boss, meet with them before the session to establish some ground rules. Politely clarify their desire for group collaboration. Explain how you plan to help the team reach decisions collaboratively. Overview your need for them to play the role of ‘equal’ team member and follow certain guidelines, meaning; not being the first to answer, hearing out other ideas before critiquing, asking clarifying questions before inserting their idea, etc. In order for the leader to be seen as empowering the team to speak its mind, it’s important that the leader agrees to following through on these behavioral guidelines before the session.

There are also bosses who are not necessarily domineering but are unaware of the inhibiting effect of their presence on staff. To mitigate this, work with them before the meeting to come up with some strategies that encourage a positive and open environment right off the bat.

Ten Strategies Facilitators Can Suggest to Better Manage Power Dynamics

During your pre-meeting review, you can suggest that they;

  1. Begin the meeting by explicitly ensuring people are clear and agree on the session purpose and outcomes that they are striving to achieve
  2. During brainstorming, invite creative input and discussion without any critiquing
  3. Establish safety norms for the meeting, such as confidentiality (e.g. nothing leaves the room) and potential fear of repercussion (e.g. all ideas during brainstorming are acceptable)
  4. If problem-solving, ensure problems are concretely defined and understood before providing solutions
  5. Share their ideas only after staff have provided their input
  6. Clearly discuss upfront any non-negotiables (e.g. what must be discussed), expert knowledge or new information, to ensure everyone is on the same page
  7. Maintain an open environment by posing their ideas as questions rather than statements
  8. Take on a more facilitative role, by encouraging the input of shy staff, summarizing comments, and posing questions that work to clarify and deepen staff input
  9. Participate in both large and small group discussion formats; break the staff up into partners or smaller groups, use written brainstorming, make decisions using different types of voting, record ideas using flip charts, etc.
  10. Attend only parts of the session: if there are sensitive topics where the boss’s presence might hinder free discussion, they can leave the room and then later return to listen to the group’s ideas, or engage the group in anonymous, written brainstorming to reinforce safety

Prep! Prep! And More Prep!

Bottom-line, it’s absolutely essential that you, the facilitator, take time to prepare for a session involving leadership and staff. Once a design is created it’s equally important that you review the design with the leader/meeting stakeholder to get buy-in. A well-designed meeting that minimizes power dynamics requires pre-work and final client sign-off on the design.

What strategies have you used to minimize a leader’s negative impact on a meeting?


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Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!