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  • Writer's pictureSherry P. Johnson

What's Your Meeting Orientation?

Group work used to drive me nuts. Trying to get different people to cooperate and share credit can be painful. Generally, I've noticed four common patterns of dysfunction: Acting on incomplete information with little data; shutting down thinking time; closing discussion without looking at multiple perspectives; and talking a bunch without taking action.

My facilitation background is grounded in a strong desire to work in high-functioning groups. But most of the time, individuals settle on one orientation--one preferred outcome they want from meetings. When one preference dominates, the group suffers. We'll talk about four common orientations in the weeks ahead:

  • The Researcher: People with this orientation come to meetings to share data. They want accurate, user-friendly reports and lots of quantitative information available for every decision. While this orientation can keep decisions grounded in context, they can also slow down processes until everyone else is bored and checks out.

  • The Inventor: People with this orientation are often creative and dynamic folks who are used to thinking across sectors and disciplines. They want lots of room for novelty, ideation, and celebration of good ideas. While they inject a lot of energy, they can overwhelm others with too many options.

  • The Analyst: Ever heard of “analysis paralysis”? People with this orientation introduce a lot of complexity, particularly in the form of “what if” scenarios. "Devil's Advocate" is a favorite role here, and dissent is habitual. While they bring thoughtful and necessary push-back, over-thinking can quickly derail an agenda.

  • The Doer: When people with this orientation think they know the best solution, they get impatient with conversation. Doers want action, and they're tired of meetings that yield no concrete results. While their action orientation is vital to any planning process, they can force groups into unproductive conflict and premature decision-making.

A 1910 photo of a man, child, and dog standing on railroad tracks next to a locomotive on its side, with train cars behind in various states of turning over.
When different meeting styles conflict, conversations can become circular or even run things off the rails.

It’s likely that you’ve run across these orientations in your meetings. Maybe you even recognize yourself in one or more of them. Over time, I’ve discovered a lot of facilitation tools and tricks that incorporate each orientation into a coherent whole. For the next four blog posts, we'll consider these styles, look at possible motivations and fears that drive them, and suggest ways you can help everyone feel seen and fulfilled in the outcome of every meeting.

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