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Round Robin — A Dead Simple Management Skill That Works

How to level the field for competence and against hubris.

Coach Tony
Oct 4, 2016 · 3 min read

There’s a messy business dynamic where loud voices crowd out more competent quieter voices. You could come at this as a bias that works against your diversity strategy. Or you could come at it as a bias that’s holding back the performance of your team.

People like the Harvard Business Review call this tension hubris vs. competence.

The tension is that quite often, hubris feels helpful.

As in, there’s a problem, and you barely have time to deal with it. Someone volunteers themselves. And in that moment, you believe the problem is solved.

Of course, it’s hard to then track if your volunteer did successfully solve the problem or if your volunteer took the opportunity away from someone who was more qualified.

I’ve written about this from a couple of angles, for example here’s a story about the founding of Twitter that’s focused on how the CEO of a failing startup ran a process to solicit ideas from every single person on the team. Twitter came from the quietist member of that team.

And I’ve written about this from the perspective of the employee, how to get ahead in a world where hubris is rewarded.

But what about if you control the system and want to change it? I have a really simple starting point.

You do not need to rely on volunteerism. That’s a copout.

Holocracy has a meeting facilitation technique that I stole and just refer to as Round Robin.

The technique is that when you need to get a contribution from everyone in the group you go around the room and ask each person individually. The person on the hot seat can either give a contribution or pass.

Imagine applying this technique to your standard brainstorming meeting.

Instead of only getting ideas from your volunteers who shout out or raise their hand, you’re explicitly soliciting ideas from everyone.

The magic of this technique is that you stop waiting for your best, most competent employees, to volunteer and you stop allowing your most confident, least competent employees to monopolize the conversation.

I like to say that often the most competent people are delayed by as little as one second while they fully articulate their thought so as to not waste the group’s time. Round Robin guarantees these people a chance to talk.

And then there’s another batch of future leaders who’d never considered that they even had leadership potential. You can often kickstart someone’s leadership path by volunteering them for leadership. Round Robin creates a culture of people who are expected to contribute solutions.

If you regularly give people small opportunities to shine, then you’ll spot the moment when they’re ready for bigger opportunities.

This Round Robin tactic is super simple. Everyone I’ve worked with has been able to adopt this for themselves.

But I think it’s a little bit of an epiphany too.

Most people think about the performance of their team in terms of hiring. Good teams are built from superstars with inherent genius. Or, sometimes people try to make a great team happen through highly refined process (yes, this feels awful).

But almost nobody thinks in terms of facilitation. The idea behind facilitation is much closer to my understanding of brain science. Talent is overrated — you can develop it through practice.

But most work places are designed as if talent is fixed. If I had to pick one management skill to focus on, I’d pick facilitation skills. Practically every difficult part of management (inspiration, problem solving, initiative, communicating) is solved by top notch facilitation.

I did write a very niche leadership book on this subject, Meeting Mastery, but really, I think you’ll get addicted to facilitation as a core meeting skill by simple adopting the Round Robin tactic above.

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