Last month I received a notice in the mail to report to the District Court in Quincy, Massachusetts for jury duty. I had been asked to report before but was never empanelled on a jury. This time was different.
Without getting into all of the details, it was a case about someone accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. Over the course of a day, we listened carefully to the opening statements, the testimony of the 2 witnesses, and the closing arguments. We were then asked to deliberate in the jury room. It was just like what you see on TV.
In the jury room, the 6 of us met for about 45 minutes and had a frank, intelligent discussion about the evidence. We were all strangers but we conducted ourselves like a finely tuned team that had worked together for years. There was lots of give and take, respect for one another's opinions, and openness about different points of view. In the end, we voted unanimously on both counts that the defendant was guilty of operating a motor vehicle under the influence and endangering others. We then reported back to the courtroom and our foreman reported our verdict to the judge.
When the judge dismissed us all, I was sad to break up our highly effective team. It was remarkable how well we had functioned together.
Our employee surveys over the past 20 years show that more than half of employees believe that the time they spend in meetings is a waste of their time. This applies to department meetings, internal committees, task forces, cross-functional teams, and all staff meetings. Employees typically complain that the meetings are poorly run, not engaging, last too long, and do not lead to useful results.
LESSONS FROM THE JURY
My experience on the jury was quite the opposite. Here are some of the factors that contributed to our effectiveness as a team which, unfortunately, often do not exist in organizations:
- Our opinions were valued.
We knew that the court really needed us to decide the case. All attempts to settle the case without going to trial had failed. We were treated royally. The judge thanked us over and over again for our service and everyone in the courtroom rose to their feet when we entered and left the room.
(Employees asked to join teams in organizations are rarely treated this way. Indeed, they often feel that their opinions are not valued at all. Our research consistently shows that only half of all employees feel free to voice their opinions openly at work.)
- We viewed our task as important.
We took our jobs of serving on the jury very seriously. We knew that it was our civic duty as citizens of our great country to help the court. We also knew that our decision would have serious consequences for the defendant (either freedom, or fines or imprisonment).
(Rarely do employees take their job of serving on a team or a committee as seriously as we did.)
- We respected each other.
We listened carefully to each other and made certain that everyone had input into our decision.
(On teams and committees in organizations, interdepartmental conflicts and internal politics often interfere with mutual respect. Our research shows that 1 out of every 2 employees believes cooperation between departments in their organization is poor and 1 out of 4 believe that people in other parts of the organization don't even respect them.)
- There were no hidden agendas.
We were strangers. There were no turf battles or past history with each other that entered into our deliberations.
(In organizational meetings, there are typically many hidden agendas that interfere with effective teamwork such as territorial, budget, and hierarchical issues).
- Our foreman was masterful.
The judge selected the foreman randomly immediately following the closing arguments. He did a great job of making certain everyone had input. He expressed his own views, but did not try to use his position to overly influence the group.
(This is rarely the case for those who lead meetings in organizations. In many organizational meetings, the leader does not try to elicit the opinions of others especially those who don't speak up. Our research shows that this is true even for senior teams. Only 1 out of 2 believe senior management works well together as a team.)
- There were no interruptions.
We deliberated in a small room with the door closed and an officer of the court guarding the door. Cell phones had to be turned off and no one was allowed to enter the room. We were left to focus on the task of evaluating the evidence.
(In organizations today, interruptions during meetings seem to be the rule rather than the exception. People toy with their smartphones or multi-task instead of paying attention and actively contributing.)
- Our decision was final.
Unless some rules of the court had been violated, our decision was final, not to be second-guessed or dismissed by the court.
(Employees often complain that senior management frequently overrules the decisions made by committees and teams. They view this as a slap in the face.)
To increase the effectiveness of teams in your organization,
Go out of your way to show that you value the time and contributions of the participants.
Make certain there is a compelling reason for the team to meet that the participants will view as important.
Provide all participants with ample opportunities to voice their opinions and then treat their opinions respectfully.
Consider comprising the team with participants who do not typically work together on a day-to-day basis.
Look outside the box in your organization for people who have the skills and temperament to effectively lead teams. They might not be your current managers.
Make certain there are no interruptions or distractions during team meetings. Lock the doors and turn off the phones. Consider banning smartphones and computers unless they are needed for the meeting.
Don't ignore or discount the recommendations of teams in your organization. Make certain the decisions made by teams are respected and implemented.