In multi-team meetings, there are frequently situations where people within the same team contradict one another. I might view the project as being accomplished in one way; my colleague might come right behind me and say it can’t be done that way. If there’s any sense of time available to get things done, take that coversation offline.
Unified Message– Airing your differences with a teammate in a group setting tells the rest of the team that your contribution to the overall project will be less reliable. Giving the impression that your part isn’t well considered and the unified belief of the team throws doubt into the mix.
Opportunity for More Cooks– Sensing your disagreement, external teams now feel empowered to mettle with your team’s decision and recommend the best alternatives based on their team’s needs, not your internal workings.
FUD– Whenever fear, uncertainty, and doubt can be exploited, it will. (Ask anyone in the US). Within a project, any part of the project that makes other teams feel uncertain is the elected “whipping boy” of the project. You can rest assured that if it’s your part of the project, you’ll be eating a lot of time in explaining, reassuring, and restoring confidence.
Here’s some advice for ways you can avoid these circumstances, and then some advice for firefighting should the problem arise.
Clear Roles and Plans– Before any multi-team meeting, meet with your colleagues and be sure you’re all going in there with the same roles and plans. I know this sounds stupid to list out, but it bit my ass not more than 45 minutes ago. Believe me, it can be missed. Be clear. Be clear again. Make the other person parrot back that you’re both in agreement.
Agreement about Curveballs– Agree ahead of time that if someone throws out something in the meeting that no one was predicting, that you’ll take the conversation offline, decide what to do, and then report back to the coordinator promptly. Thinking on one’s feet isn’t everyone’s strong suit, and worse, if someone’s a “yes man,” you might find yourself politely smiling while a colleague sets you up to certain failure.
Jump in, Go Offline– If all else fails and your colleague decides she has the right way to do things, regardless of your previous planning, interrupt as politely as possible and recommend you finalize things offline. Mention that there are some final details to be nailed down, but that you’ll get back to the coordinator (or project manager) promptly. Don’t be rude. Let the other person and yourself keep “face,” but do your best to squelch that signal promptly.
Fight in Private– The next failing when these situations occur is that the fight almost always takes part in the hallway outside the meeting, STILL in plain sight of the teams involved. Take the fight back to an office, our out to the coffee shop, or for a walk around the building. Don’t further disrupt and distort your external appearance (and thus your team’s position in the project) by fighting in front of everyone.
Some of the keys to completing a project on time and within budget is to be sure that confidence is high, cooperation is free-flowing, and communication is up-to-the-second. Following some of the advice above falls into the “damage control” part of project management, but it’s just as important as knowing how to send a proper status email, and how to handle cost overruns. In fact, it’s often MORE important.