The Groan Zone in Meetings: Why It’s a Good Thing

For this article by Jo Ilfeld, Executive Leadership Coach on the groan zone in meetings the image shows a woman sitting in a meeting looking bored.

Have you ever found yourself in a meeting that seems to never end? You could have fallen into the groan zone. But don’t worry – that’s a good place to be.

You know those meetings where people keep talking about the same thing over and over again, and everyone is struggling to come to an agreement?

In a recent conversation with one of my clients, we discussed the challenge of leading meetings where the group is too consensus-driven. They were willing to discuss things FOREVER until everyone was on the same page. That’s when I pulled out a model that I had learned in a facilitation class, called “Participatory Decision Making” by Sam Kaner.

Kaner’s model highlights the importance of allowing decisions to diverge, rather than rushing to an early conclusion. When a group first starts discussing a topic, they often share familiar opinions that have been heard before. If a leader rushes to a conclusion at this point, the outcome is likely to be mediocre.

Instead, if you allow the conversation to diverge even further, you eventually reach the groan zone. This is the point where everyone is uncomfortable and feels like they will never agree on anything. But if you stick with it, you will eventually emerge from the groan zone and converge onto solutions.

One mistake leaders make is cutting off the discussion too early, even in the groan zone. Another mistake is postponing the discussion and not allowing it to move into convergence. Finally, some leaders spend hours refining solutions when it’s not necessary.

Participatory decision-making is a process that requires time and mental allowance for the groan zone. It’s normal to hit this stage, and it’s important to allow yourself and your team to come out on the other side. By doing so, you can ensure that you’ve had a diverse range of ideas and allowed them to coalesce into a solution that everyone can agree on.

So the next time you find yourself in the groan zone, don’t panic. Instead, remember that it’s a necessary part of the process and stick with it. You’ll be amazed at the solutions you can come up with when you allow yourself and your team the time to explore different perspectives.

Do you have introverts in your meetings? Learn how to give them time and space to share their opinions.

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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