Earlier this month I went on a walking meeting with a good physician friend along the lakes of beautiful Ladybird Lake in downtown Austin. During our walk, she expressed her surprise when, during a partner meeting one of the physician owners rolled her eyes dramatically and mouthed disgust over the ensuing discussion. I wasn't as surprised given my experience in physician partner meetings and the -- how can I phrase this -- near Tony-award-winning expressions and performances I have witnessed. Because these "performances" seem so commonplace in the medical industry, I thought I would dedicate a few words to it this month.
I'm not a psychologist, but I can't help but hypothesize that the frequency of this problem among you 'doctor types' might have something to do with your unbelievable heart, passion, and concern for humanity combined with a lifetime of education learning to identify, diagnose, and “fix” (aka - make decisions promptly, authoritatively, and in a silo). Further, as a kid, you were likely so bright that your good grades made it possible to skim right through some of the more qualitative subjects, such as those proffered by the likes of Dale Carnegie and Daniel Goleman.
As a b-school junkie, the quaint smells and hands-on atmosphere in the biology lab where you excelled left me in the hallway hunched over and green-faced. Learning "how to win friends and influence people" was going to be a necessity in my life. So today I wanted to share with you a few lessons, using the scientific method, of course, that I would like for you to "experiment" with for greater success in getting your point across, expressing dissention, and achieving measurable outcomes in partner meetings…
Your physician partner meetings are inefficient and rarely productive. If you express displeasure or disagreement, people get offended. Discussions on important matters either become over-heated or are avoided, impairing the decision-making process. Complaints tend to be re-hashed at every meeting with very little resolution.
With the addition of a few tools on your Mayo Stand, you can:
Step 1: Realize that multiple insights yields better results
Understand that there is a lot of scientific evidence supporting the theory that collective intelligence yields better outcomes than individual opinion. So much so, in fact, that MIT now has an entire Center for Collective Intelligence. "When there are many who contribute to the process of deliberation," states Aristotle so eloquently, "each can bring his share of goodness and moral prudence…some appreciate one part, some another, and all together appreciate all".
If you aren’t a theorist, however, let’s look at some real-world data. Google, Wikipedia, and Amazon are all designed for key decisions to be made through banter and group discussion. Amazon even takes it a step further - not only do they make all key decisions within teams, but they also have a specific program in place to revere those within the group who break convention with "peculiar", or differing, perspectives. So how do they do it without killing each other? It starts with their mindset.
If we can start by going into partner meetings with the mindset that "peculiar" (note the use of a non-offensive word here) yields better outcomes, suggesting the "peculiar" doesn't have to get your blood boiling (or anyone else's, for that matter).
Step 2: Learn to banter
Practice banter in a safe environment first (perhaps in a class or with a trusted friend) and heed Part Four of Dale Carnegie's famous "How to Win Friends and Influence People" (this is the section with guidance on changing people's attitudes and behavior) by (1) beginning with praise and honest appreciation, (2) calling attention to people's mistakes indirectly, (3) talking about your own mistakes before criticizing another person, (4) asking questions instead of giving direct opinions, and (5) always letting others save face.
Step 3: Stick to the same agenda
Use the following agenda for every meeting:
Step 4: Assign a timekeeper
Beginning with Agenda Item #1, go around the table and give everyone a maximum of 30 seconds to add discussion items to the list. Assign a timekeeper to time 30-second increments. This is not a time to pitch arguments or prove points; it is only a time to add decisions, issues, and goals. Write all items added to a whiteboard visible to all. Continue this process with Agenda Items #2 & #3.
Step 5: Follow a system
Ask the following questions for each item on the list:
Step 6: Assign & make decisions
For the circled items on the list ONLY (ignore all non-circled items; they will not be discussed today), ask the following:
The process outlined above may seem elementary and beneath you at first, but many of the world's most successful companies use a similar structure because it is efficient, quantifiable, creates accountability, and gives everyone a chance to be heard. Group "peculiarities" should ultimately encourage positive, lively, inoffensive debate that leads to either the initial desired outcome; an undesired outcome that you understand and feel comfortable with given that everyone was 'heard' and all opinions were voted on in a logical, fair manner; or a new outcome that is by far better than anyone thought possible going in because the discussions led to the creation of new possibilities.
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