How team meetings are like family holiday dinners

Your loved ones (and merely tolerated ones) take on familiar roles as the family gathers at the table, but when your colleagues lapse into rigid roles, it’s time to set down the biscuits and talk turkey.

The holidays are a time for family. We have the eccentric uncle and maybe an unpredictable cousin, but they are family. We enjoy the day and take a deep breath knowing we see Uncle Buck just once a year.

If you have these same eccentric characters playing key roles on your team, it’s not easy—and it’s every day. Recognize individual habits that affect everyone. Your team is counting on you.

Do any of these roles sound familiar on your team?

Permanent host— Everyone just assumes this relative will host the holiday dinner every year. “What time is Tom having dinner?” before Tom has sent an invitation. At work, determine whether Tom is the default host because no one else steps up. He may want a break. Spread the responsibility around, or make sure Tom has adequate support. Let him know he is appreciated.

Fruitcake specialist— Aunt Sally was complimented on her fruitcake back in the ’70s, and ever since she has been the fruitcake expert. The only problem is that this is the only item she’ll bring. If you have a fruitcake specialist on your team, encourage “your Sally” to try a different dish. You need versatility in these changing times. Give a new simple, yet memorable, recipe, and encourage experimentation this year. She might come around.

Grand entrance relative— This relative always arrives an hour late, just as everyone circles the table waiting for their ham and cranberries. Whether it’s procrastination or the desire for a grand entrance, this late arriver affects everyone’s day. On your team, give these teammates earlier deadlines than everyone else, and if they don’t make it, start the meeting or event without them. (Remember: Never count on them to bring the appetizer.)

Dinner emcee— Uncle Tex has great stories, but when you can’t work in a prayer because of the nonstop monologue, it’s time to redirect the conversation. On your team, this behavior crowds out other voices and derails team engagement as a result. Talk to your workplace “Uncle Tex” privately, and let him know that you value his input, but ask that he listen more and share less.

Overplanner— The overplanner has the holiday get-together broken down into 30-minute segments, and guests aren’t allowed to bring dishes that are not on his menu. If you have team members that are too reliant on structure and who overwork everything, give them assignments that require more flexibility. Help them think of multiple options, not just doing things one set way. It’s hard to collaborate with an overplanner.

Armchair quarterback— Holiday traditions can magically turn back the clock: The women cook dinner, and the men watch football. If you have the family member who wants the family holiday dinner held until half-time, runs in and eats, and then hurries back to the game, it’s time for a reminder that this isn’t a “Mad Men” episode. On your team, watch out for stereotypes that affect who gets the high visibility, high-stress assignment or the promotion. Also, notice who is “unavailable” for the heavy lifting. These stereotypes and habits are easy to spot.

Underperformer— This relative arrives late with a bag of chips she grabbed on the way over, or she brings in a half-eaten dish from the workplace potluck the day before. This underperformer keeps the responsibility squarely on someone else’s shoulders while she stays on the sidelines. If you have team members that consistently under deliver, explain that you need more from them. Point out that the entire team is covering for them, and it’s growing old.

As you celebrate the holidays this year with your family, accept and love their eccentricities. If you see these same behaviors on your team, try a different game plan.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults and author of “Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life to be released in May 2014. A version of this article originally appeared on PeopleResults.

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