Reflecting on meeting dynamics

Like music, we do not always get to see what is happening in a large conversation unless someone alerts us to its patterns and nuances. Sometimes this understanding is purely interesting, but sometimes it can alert us to meaning and insight – and potential opportunities to improve things.

The following questions can either be used to reflect back upon past meetings, or to develop insight into current meetings.
In the former case, we would suggest that you simply flick through the questions mentally and see if thinking about them raises any interesting observations or further questions – they may highlight some specific areas of curiosity or interest which you might want to check out specifically at your next meeting.
In the case of live events, this may be difficult in your own meetings, except where the flow may have gone off on its own. But you could use them to observe someone else’s meeting to provide insight back to them on what is happening.
The questions explore five different areas of how meetings work:
Participation & Membership
  • Is there any pattern or particular intensity of participation and does it shift?
  • How are silent people treated and how is their silence interpreted?
  • Who talks to whom? Is there any underlying reason for this?
  • Who keeps the ball rolling? How? Why?
  • Is there any subgrouping: consistently agreeing or disagreeing?
  • Is there an ‘in crowd’? How are those who are ‘out’ treated?
  • Do some members move in and out (coming forward or sitting back)? – under what conditions?
  • Which members are high in influence? Which low? And is there any shift?
  • How do they influence: autocratically? democratically?
  • Is there any rivalry in the group? How does this affect the others?
  • Are certain topics taboo? Who reinforces this and how?
  • Is there too high a degree of politeness and agreement?
  • What happens when members disagree?
  • Are there any underlying ‘house rules’ in operation?
Decision Making Procedures
  • Who identifies the topic for discussion and how does (s)he gain agreement on this?
  • Does the group jump from topic to topic? Who seems to encourage this? Why?
  • Who is supportive of others’ suggestions and decisions?
  • Is there evidence of the majority overriding the minority (eg by voting) or does the group drive for consensus?
  • Is anybody apparently ignored?
Group Atmosphere/Feelings
  • Who seems to prefer a friendly congenial atmosphere and how do they attempt to create it?
  • Who seems to prefer an atmosphere of conflict and disagreement and how do they attempt to create it?
  • How would you describe the general atmosphere?
  • What signs of feeling do you observe in group members?
  • Are there any attempts to block the expression of negative feelings?
Group Politics
  • To what extent do you observe fight defences exhibited?: competition, cynicism, interrogation?
  • To what extent do you observe flight defences exhibited? : intellectualisation, generalisation, projection, rationalisation, withdrawal?
  • Is there any obvious ‘pairing’ taking place where two individuals always support each other’s case?
  • Can you see any evidence of ‘red-crossing’ – similar to ‘pairing’ but where they automatically rush to each other’s aid – like a pact?
  • Or is the tendency to ‘focus on one’ when there is an issue in the hope of avoiding wider questions which make other people vulnerable?

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