Many leaders operate on the delusion that people acting happy around them means everything is good. Don’t they realize that their employees’ careers ride on being liked by their boss? Most people will go out of their way to avoid conflict in front of their boss.

The same is true of meetings. The point of bringing people together for meetings is to collaborate. Collaborate means to work together to create something. How can you create something of value without conflict? How can you elevate results when there is no pain?

Rather than having calm, predictable team meetings, the best leaders operate from the opposite belief: focus on the pain. Increase the conflict. The magic of meetings is in the difficult conversations – the challenging opinions, the clash of ideas, the topics no one wants to discuss.

The three benefits of painful meetings are:

1. Invite Innovation. Henry Ford, Roger Ailes, and Steve Jobs all held explosive meetings. People feared attending them and often left in shock. The result was innovation and progress. The best ideas come from conflict. Challenge ideas to make them better.

2. Overcome the YES People. Our research confirms that 82% of employees are “yes people.” They will act positive and supportive in front of leaders. They are not, however, going to stand up and say “I have a better way” unless you poke and prod them. Expect your team to offer opinions and ideas different and better than yours. Unless you do, most answers will be a version of yes.

3. Raise the conflict to raise results. For example, an executive team we worked with was having a major sales slump. It turned out they went 6 months with no pain; 6 months of meetings making nice when in the background they were working hard to undermine each other. No wonder they were not producing. To put a stop to it, we brought them together and had them all make a list of what was pissing them off about each other. Within 3 hours, the issues were all on the table and they realized that unless they started bailing out the boat together, they would all sink – together! They went on to have their best year in 3 years.

So instead of avoiding the pain, head straight for it. Ask for, listen to, bring up, and discuss the hard questions – this is where the magic is.


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Lawrence Polsky
Lawrence Polsky is co-founder of Teams of Distinction, a world-renowned firm focused on creating and enhancing organizational cultures, and building teams that collaborate with near perfect synchronicity. He spent 20 years in OD & Learning, teaching thousands of professionals worldwide. His lifelong education in human behavior began at the age of 9 at the kitchen table. With a Master’s in Organization Development, and post-graduate work focusing on the impact of emotions on communication, problem-solving and relationships, Lawrence prides himself on bringing his kitchen table wisdom to boardroom roundtables. He has helped leaders improve results at technical and scientific companies such as Facebook, Pfizer, Dell, Intuit, Bayer, and NASA. You can reach him at lpolsky@teamsofdistinction.com or (609)333-0653.
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