Task & Maintenance Skills

At a surface level, it is easy to believe that the interactions which take place in a meeting are all about different aspects of the content of the meeting. However, if you look deeper at what is going on you can see that some interactions seem to help the meeting to flow better, and others don’t.

The interactions which help the meeting to progress are often referred to as Task Skills and Maintenance Skills.
Task Skills are those interactions which enable people to contribute and process content, while Maintenance Skills are those interactions which help to build and maintain relationships within the group.
In many cases, task and maintenance happen naturally, but we often find that some people do them better than others, and that the absence of such people can have a negative effect on the flow of the meeting.
Is this knowledge useful? In most situations, not really.
But there are situations where the concepts can be invaluable in trying to understand the dynamics of the group, and who is using which skills. This can help the leader to understand how some attendees seem to have a particularly positive and uplifting effect on the group. It can also help them to understand what might be required if the meeting becomes more stilted or less ‘flowing’ and enjoyable.
The skills are as follows:
Task Skills
  • Initiating: Setting discussions in motion and introducing new trains of thought
  • Information Seeking: Asking questions and drawing out input from others
  • Clarifying and Elaborating: Ensuring that ambiguous or confusing input is properly understood
  • Summarising: Condensing a stream (or a tangle) of input into the essential messages
  • Consensus Testing: Checking agreement and acceptance of input and conclusions
Maintenance Skills
  • Encouraging: Making people feel good about their (intended) contribution
  • Harmonising: Bringing alignment, and reconciling potential tensions between group members
  • Gatekeeping: Ensuring a balanced and manageable flow of input – preventing domination of input
  • Compromising: Finding mutually beneficial outcomes for people
  • Expressing group feeling: Making feeling that are common to the group explicit
Sometimes, in observing the flow of your meeting in this way, you may find that certain skills are rarely (or insufficiently) exhibited. This enables you to consider what positive impact an increase in these skills may have, and to compensate for this either within the process or within your facilitation of the meeting.

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