Open Communication with a Talking Stick

Have you ever attended a meeting where everyone talked and nobody listened? What a waste of time. Way too often team meetings turn into a “me-fest” where each person is so busy trying to make their own points, they don’t hear a word that other people have to say.

If this sounds like your meetings, there is hope. Here’s what you need to do.

  • Make sure you use an agenda for your team meetings. The agenda should identify the meeting purpose and have topics and time indicated. A meeting leader should also be designated to help keep the meeting on track.
  • Define working agreements or ground rules for your meetings. If your meetings are a free for all, you probably either don’t have ground rules or your team has them and ignores them. If you don’t have ground rules, define them as a team. These are rules that guide the behavior of team members during meetings and can be items like:
    • One person talks at a time
    • Cell phones must be turned off
    • Make decisions that impact the entire team using consensus
    • Attack the problem, not the person
  • If your team has trouble abiding by the “one person talks at a time rule,” try using a team Talking Stick. This is a physical stick the team will use that indicates who has permission to talk by possession. When a team member has the Talking Stick, they can talk. The stick gets passed around the room as the meeting progresses and helps you allow one person to talk at a time. It’s a good tool for teams that need more discipline in this area. I’ve seen it work for the most unruly teams. It may just be the option for you.

Have you used specific tools to help your team get through team meetings effectively? Please share your thoughts.

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. She gets a lot of joy from working with teams and their leadership to help them improve and work through team issues. Not only does her advice come from the heart, it comes from years of experience working as a team member, team leader, manager and owner of her own company. She has truly walked in your shoes and offers help so you can be a better team leader. You can find more advice from Denise at her website Ask Team Doc and don't forget to follow her on Twitter @deniseoberry.

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  • Alexandra Levit

    Great advice, Denise. “Me fests” are the reason people hate meetings.


  • deniseoberry

    You bet Alexandra and who wants to participate in one of those?