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I just started a new experimental project in my division which will attempt to integrate application-use and development efforts across different teams.

Problem: In the kick-off meeting today I discovered that two of the five managers I will be working with each have a distinct top-down or bottom-up approach. The one guy only talks about an integrated vision, process model, role-hierarchy, ...; the other about use-cases, business expectations for next month, ...

I am prepared to act the counter part for them when working individually, so that I pull them both towards the center by asking the Top-Down guy what his expected benefits for day-to-day business are, and by asking the Bottom-Up guy how he plans to control integration with the other teams.

But when we're in a meeting, I don't know how to keep them from circling around each other a la win by changing the point of view of the argument. I can't counter them in a controlled fashion, since they already counter each other, albeit in the form of provocation and not sincere questions. After asking my sponsor, I was told that they apparently do come to an agreement after circling around each other often enough. They are both nice guys, just have opposite ways of working.

Any suggestions how I can effectively moderate between these two legitimate approaches in meetings, so that we can concentrate on the topic instead of listening to these two for hours on end, saying things that are correct but don't help us move forward? Needless to say, I don't have any authority over them - I feel I can only get them to think in a common direction by asking the right questions addressed at both of them - but I'm having trouble thinking up of a convincing approach.

Any help, ideas, or experience would be appreciated.

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If you are talking about how to manage effective meetings, your best bet is to call out when what the two managers are contributing isn't adding value. You can do this by politely taking the first opportunity (when they pause to catch their breath?) to ask them to take their discussion offline and come back to the next meeting with a recommendation. Facilitate their offline discussion if you have to, but at least then you only waste your time and not everyone else's.

If your question is a more global one, top-down and bottom-up approaches are IMO appropriate at different points in a project lifecycle. Initially you need a top-down/holistic approach to define big-picture questions like Vision, Project Product, Success Measures, etc. As the project progresses and the team gets into the devilish details of how to develop the project product you will move more into a bottom-up mode and the top-down piece will go into the background, but you still need this to provide overall guidance.

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This is a facilitation problem. It is not an issue between the different approaches. I would suspect you have other issues in your meetings, too, if you do not have a strong facilitator running the meetings.

Different mental models are valuable. You do not want to squash it. Deploy a strong facilitator role in these meetings, somebody that knows how to read the room, maintain the rules, and keep the meeting flowing. Remember that the leader of the meeting is NOT the facilitator. And because you are asking this question about methods to moderate, it sounds like you do not have the resident knowledge and skill set for this role.

Find this person on your team or hire him/her. The role will pay for itself eventually.

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