Designers love the color wheel because it makes relationships between various colors and hues easy to see.  Some colors are primary, some secondary or tertiary, some work well together, and some just don’t.  But why do oranges go with blues?  What makes some pairs of colors fab while others fail?

Teams collaborate to achieve a higher caliber result than working individually would produce. Like the color wheel, some teams just seem to be a better match.  Individuals bring their own unique combination of traits to the table that must be blended with others.  Sometimes this is easier said than done.  Great collaboration means checking your ego, emotions, and fears at the door so ideas can be introduced and vetted. Consider the following situation. What issues sound familiar?

MarketStrength Media, Inc has been in business for eight years and is owned and led by founder, Rita Thomas.   Rita has called a meeting with your boss and team to discuss the social media marketing theme for next year. You are dreading the meeting because although your company has done a wonderful job embracing diversity, it has a long way to go to master collaboration. Attendees in the meeting are Rita, Jack, Sue, Tom and you. All of you have extensive knowledge, experience and a track record of great results, but you also have some issues. Rita has a brilliant mind and processes information quicker that most people. Simply having authority in the room is intimidating for your team. Jack has the most marketing experience, he has created the majority of the company’s marketing plans, but he tends to be defensive when his ideas are challenged. Sue, Tom and you have the same seniority in the company and the same level of knowledge with different personalities. Sue is highly competitive and can be emotional when presenting her point of view. Tom is a yes man who rarely disagrees with authority. You are of course perfect!

Whether you are leading the meeting or participating in it, recognize these common issues with group dynamics and prepare for them. Ask yourself, what problems can occur from each of these issues? How do you deal with each person’s issues without hijacking someone else’s? Here are some tips.

Authority in the room—when there are people in the meeting that have a high level of authority, they can intimidate others. If you are that person, hold back your opinion until the other members have spoken so it does not bias the room. Be sure to set the right tone. Rita could open the meeting by saying, “We will spend the next two hours brainstorming ideas for the social media marketing theme for next year. Our goal is to have a dozen themes to consider. Once we have them, we’ll have some fierce conversation and debate each theme. I’m counting on you to speak freely.”

Defensiveness—the enemy of collaboration is defensiveness and defensiveness comes from fear. Although the fear can vary, it is often some form of ‘not good enough,’ including not liked enough, not smart enough, or not working hard enough.  When offering opposing ideas, especially to a defensive team member, avoid beginning with ‘You’re wrong, that’s not true,” or “I disagree.” You might respond to Jack with softer statements like, “another option to consider, would it be possible?” or “could we consider?” Another golden phrase is, “yes, and…” ‘Yes’ acknowledges what the other person has said while ‘and’ is your transition for adding more.

Competitiveness—some people enter a meeting as if it is a competitive sport they want to win. There is only one winner and that winner has the best idea; ultimately, the idea that is adopted.  Therefore, they will spend their energy working to convince the group to adopt their idea rather than participating in the open exchange of ideas. To combat competitiveness, acknowledge Sue’s idea, but remind the group you need a few more.

Emotional—this covers a lot of territory but once emotions begin to stir in even one team member, it halts progress. Common emotions in a meeting include passion for or against an idea and having your feelings hurt. Emotions can be counter balanced with facts and data rather than direct judgement. Keep in mind fear of hurting someone’s feelings can be as limiting to the effectiveness of a team as someone who is careless with other’s feelings.

Yes man—in many organizations, being agreeable, especially with authority, is a desired trait. Unfortunately, a yes man (or woman) adds no value. To encourage alternate ideas, especially those that are contrary to the leader’s say, “who has an alternate viewpoint from Jack?” or “someone disagree with me.” These simple phrases invite contrary opinions.

Lack of Self-awareness—nobody’s perfect. Not even you. What issue are you dragging into the room with you?

Prepare for the strengths and weaknesses of participants prior to entering a meeting. It can be as important as the meeting’s subject matter itself.  Collaboration is not simply an exercise or activity.  It is a value organizations are embracing.  Become aware of your team’s collaboration color wheel and make adjustments to accommodate individual differences.  You may just find a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.