Poker chips and Paper Clips

Often times, meetings are dominated by a few people who grab the stage often and sometimes hold it longer than necessary. Most often they are the extroverts and “verbalizers”.  Many times, they blurt out the first thing that comes to mind to control and dominate the conversation.

Allowing this to happen regularly can create a stressed team dynamic. It also can limit the ability of the team to explore all the viable alternatives to come up with the best possible decision at the time.

Lastly, you risk full commitment from all participants especially those who are most impacted by the decision.

The following “turn-taking” technique supports team alignment and commitment. Making sure that everyone has equal time to be heard is a proven leadership/teamwork building method found in Google’s 5-year study on how to build the perfect team dubbed Project Aristotle.

Poker chips and paper clips 

The following is an effective technique with highly verbal, dominating or contentious meeting participants as well as introverts who do not speak up often enough.  BTW – Research shows that introverts often contribute well-considered and valuable input but may need encouragement to participate more often.

If your meetings are not as productive as you would like, try this:

  1. Before the meeting, distribute 5-10 poker chips or paper clips to everyone.
  2. Communicate the following to participants, “In order to get the most out of this meeting, I want to make sure that everyone is heard and contributes.  Every time you speak, please put one of your poker chips/paper clips in the center of the table. For every 3 minutes you speak, it will cost you another poker chip/paper clip. (This prevents one person from monopolizing the conversation. I recommend assigning a timer).
  3. After all your poker chips are spent, you can no longer verbally participate in the meeting, just listen to others and observe.

table thru door

Obviously, this technique will not work if people don’t agree with it. It will take the senior leader to sanction and support the technique. All must be willing to give legitimacy to trying this powerful technique.

When utilizing this technique, several things will happen:

  • The verbalizers will likely spend their poker chips quickly in the first few meetings.
  • Sometimes the verbalizers will actually think before they speak because their participation costs them something and;
  • The quieter participants will have most of the chips and begin participating more. You may need to prompt them to engage at the beginning.

This is a hokey but effective way to remind everyone to engage and use their time thoughtfully.

N.B.  Once you build the habit, you should no longer need chips or clips.  The conversation will begin to have more of a natural flow with everyone contributing equally in terms of time.

Let me know how it goes.

Bill – Certified Scaling Up Coach

Be Exceptional!

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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