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November 6, 2015

My Awkward Team Meeting

Bhanu Khan

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Have you ever been in a team meeting at work and wanted the ground to swallow you up? What's your most cringe-worthy memory of a team meeting that didn't go very well for you?

I have been witness to many an awkward moment in meetings, happily not always involving me directly. My awkward moment came when I joined a new team, whose members mispronounced my name no matter how many times I said it. Now, I understand that my name would cause fewer issues if it were, say, Jane; however, it's not Jane, it's Bhanu (pronounced "Bar Noo"). Generally, I'm fairly relaxed about the variations of it that I hear (and goodness knows, I've mispronounced a fair few names myself) but, as I was going to be spending most of my week with these people, I thought I'd put them right... More fool me!

Two minutes into my very first meeting with my new team, having tried to tactfully explain how to pronounce my name, my manager's silent, icy glare told me that I might have been better off changing my name by deed poll. I was mortified.

As a result, I held back from putting myself "out there" in meetings. As a fairly confident and mature individual, it pains me to admit that the memory would occasionally resurface throughout my time in the organization. And I wasn't the only one who felt the tension. A colleague later told me that she had often come to regret instances where she had put herself forward for something and then been shut down. I believe her words were, "If you raise your head above the parapet, you get shot."

Having said that, I have also worked in other places, where managers have worked hard to provide an environment that was welcoming to new ideas and less like a firing line. Being in that environment allowed ideas to flow more freely and people were more open. Even when mistakes happened, people were freer to admit to them and this allowed us to learn new processes and move on quickly.

You may not think it but I am actually a fan of team meetings. On the whole, I think that they are essential to good communication at work, and they can even strengthen relationships within the team. However, we probably all have various experiences of ones that didn't go very well, whether because of embarrassments caused by our own faux pas, or just because of the inherent awkwardness we can feel when we are suddenly thrust into a group situation and expected to speak up.

My awkward situation had made me mistrustful of my team environment. Looking back, I realize that I limited what I was prepared to speak up about and tried to blend in rather than stand out. Unfortunately, the format of our meetings never evolved. Our manager was a fan of routine rather than innovation. However, having since moved on, I have gained access to tools and resources that have developed my team working skills. I know now that, though I felt my voice had limited influence, there were more things I could have done to have improved the status quo.

There are lots of methods out there that can improve team meetings for the benefit of manager, individual and the team as a whole. This particular article explores a tool that helps everyone in the team to have an equal say in a decision. The Modified Borda Count is great at helping a group come to a consensual agreement, but what it really does is allow everyone to be heard in a way that is non-threatening... I only wish I had discovered it sooner.

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