I have met more than one time a situation where everyone wants to talk, but no one wants to listen. For example:

  • Our team discusses where to go in our next team building trip.
  • Our team discusses a strategy for our next football match, and suddenly it becomes a mess because everyone wants to present their point while the others are talking.
  • Our team talk about silly small things, like how the report should be written and stuff... It's like almost always about the simple stuff that this situation occurs the most.

Usually, the work dispute will get resolved when an "imperative voice" from the boss/senior member is raised and forces everyone onto a solution. But, if that voice isn't credible enough (like in the case of the football match), it won't help.

How can you, as a project manager/leader, resolve this kind of situation? I mean, in the team there are some senior members whose ideas are often respected. And the junior team members seem to think they don't have a voice, so they find every opportunity to raise their voices. That often results in a mess, with unhappy team members.

I'd like if we could create an environment where every team member has his chance to speak and the team chooses what they think is the best solution. Is it that hard?

  • get a conch shell ;) – warren Jun 4 '15 at 21:17
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Help the team to move from storming to norming, see stages of group development. You can achieve this by:

  • Present your observations to the team. Take care that you talk about observations and not interpretation.
  • Highlight the advantages you could achieve if you change your behaviour, e.g. get better results by taking more ideas into account, speed up meetings, improve the atmosphere. Do not focus on your current disadvantages.
  • Together with your team, define rules for meetings and discussions, e.g. you use a moderator
  • Use a moderator, this should be a respected member of the team who is able to keep the discussion goal in focus
  • Use creativity techniques that allow all to participate, e.g. silent brainstorming

The PM should guide this team building process. But keep in mind that it's a change process: if you get the team to accept the need for change, you have good chances to succeed.

  • I tried what you suggest. Unfortunately, our team is somewhat temporary. There has been some setback, and now people lose their heart. There's not enough reason for members to put in efforts. For now people avoid taking action and simply put in minimal effort. Maybe that we didn't notice the problem at the right time... – Hoàng Long Jun 11 '15 at 16:01
  • That's sad to hear. Is it worth to open an new question on how to deal with such situations? – Tob Jun 11 '15 at 17:33

A good project manager is a good facilitator. Someone who can guide healthy conversations and help the team get to, remember and follow through on their commitments and decisions.

Taking a people focus I'd advise two key areas:

1- Who does what, by when: At the very basic, that's all project management is, tracking who is doing what and when it should be done. We often get wrapped up in the big ticket items of a release (new database, new UI, new web store) that we don't track the smaller things. As Tobias referenced, your team is probably still in the Storming phase. This is a time when you need to be tracking even the little things. So keep a simple action item and decision log. During any meeting, just jot down a capital A- for any action and a D- for anything decided. Dump this into a simple spreadsheet and share it through the preferred method.

2- Understand how your team wants to be communicated to: Peter Drucker's communication principles have been paraphrased as "Communication is what the listener does." If someone isn't being communicated to in the way they understand, then often they won't get it and even worse, they'll clam up and not communicate back.

I've found the DISC profile system incredibly simple and effective in helping me get a team communicating better. In a hyper nutshell DISC has four main quadrants:

"D"- Direct and to the point. No problem interrupting or being interrupted. Hates long stories or any explanation that starts with "Well..." "I"- The influencer. Like Tom Sawyer, he'll get the job done most likely by getting everyone else involved. Highly distractable and can talk about pretty much nothing for hours. "S" - The team mom. They want nothing more than everyone to get along and the work to get done. They won't confront and will rarely speak up in a large group. "C" - The data person. There is no such thing as too much data and why explain something in ten words when a ten page email will do. Doesn't like to be surprised and will take their time to formulate an answer.

None of these is good or bad and the best teams have a healthy mix of all these types (and hybrid types like High D/I or High D/C). The important thing to note though is that the "D" and "I" people do not have a problem speaking up and can be very "forceful" in meetings. Two "D"s can seem like they are fighting when they are just communicating in their element.

Understanding your team, you can then work with them. In those large meetings, temper the "D" and "I"s a bit by asking for the "C" and "S" to contribute. If you know some major discussions are going to be happening, give the "C" and "S" a heads up so they have time to research or work out their thoughts. For the "D" keep things short and simple. You take the time to read the "C"'s 12 page report and summarize it in the meeting.

Learning how your team communicates and then setting up an environment where everyone gets heard, will solve a lot of the "Storming" issues your team is having.

I think the two answers provided by Joel and Tobias are very good. I want in my answer to focus in on just your title of the problem: "Everyone wants to talk but no one listens."

I can almost hear in that statement, "I am talking but no one is listening to me."

Take a look at the culture of your organization, and its history. You may be coping with a culture that does not embrace contribution, does not have the vehicles in place where employee opinions are heard, and/or rarely deploys creative ideas from its employees.

You may have a more systemic issue to resolve culturally and that requires a ton of dedication to change and a lot of time.

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