Challenge to be Challenged – Guaranteed way to get group participation

I try to publish a summary of interesting links once in a while; this week I came across an article that talked about someone invoking their “McDonalds Moment” (see here). In short, the author says “When we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s. An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge.

I also have a similar technique that I use to create discussion or opinion; typically when facilitating a meeting or being involved in group discussion I will come to the table with an idea or suggestion that tries to solve the problem – it might not be the perfect one, but it causes others to react and give their thoughts.

Recently I used it when participating in a new product discussion where the problem statement had been laid out and the room was quiet when the (to-be) product owner asked “So what should we do?” Taking the silence as a cue that the group wasn’t sure how to navigate forward, I made a statement about how we could use some existing solutions in a different way so as to bend them in a way they almost fit – I knew it wasn’t the best solution, but it was a starting point. Consequently someone else used my suggestion with one of their own, but with a different twist. What followed was everyone participating in a group-driven solution.  Result!

Now there are some caveats with this approach as it’s not always going to be so effective:

  • You’re initial suggestion shouldn’t so outlandish that people discount you and devalue your participation – it should be reasonable and show a connection to the problem statement
  • You will get more traction from people that know you – if you do this to a room that you are new to, you may be seen as a know-it-all, aggressively challenging, or enforcing your idea on a group that doesn’t know you and therefore hasn’t got a grasp of your subject matter expertise.
  • For a group that doesn’t know you, remove yourself from the suggestion – rather than saying “I think we should do x”, try “You know, I have seen a group solve this problem by doing x” – that way you’re not being the opinionated outsider

So the next time you think the group you’re working with is going to greet you with silence, you have a new weapon to your arsenal.

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