Is it a tangent, or does this discussion make you feel uncomfortable?

Table of Contents

According to the dictionary, a tangent is a completely different line of thought or action.

In a world with unrelenting pressure to speed up, and exhausting, back-to-back meetings, tangents in team conversations get a bad rap.

As a team coach, I have observed teams often mislabeling uncomfortable discussions as tangents.

There are clear distinctions between productive and unproductive tangents and I wanted to share them here.

 

Unproductive Tangents: Going Off Course and Derailing Progress

1. Completely off-topic

When team members veer off into unrelated subjects, it can cause the conversation to lose focus and drift away from the matter at hand.

You want to cut those tangents; otherwise, the team members get frustrated and the productivity suffers.

2. Jumping to different decision-making stages prematurely

The 4D Meeting Framework© from my book Hold Successful Meetings explains the four steps to solve any problem:

  • Define the problem or the goal
  • Develop ideas
  • Decide the way forward
  • Do what you decided

Most team discussions are unproductive because team members are at different stages of this process at every moment.

Someone already pushes an idea for a decision while the other does not even agree there is a problem.

As individuals, we jump back and forth between those stages, but at a team level, this creates chaos.

For example, it is unproductive when someone jumps to ideas when we haven’t defined the problem yet.

Or when someone tears one idea down when we are in the developing ideas stage and not in the decision-making.

3. Getting bogged down in the details

According to Parkinson’s role of triviality, teams will spend much more time debating a $100 decision than a $1,000,000 decision.

What coffee maker we should buy for the kitchen can take longer than whether we should acquire a business.

There are several reasons for this, such as defence against stress or choosing to debate what’s more familiar and known. Still, it is not the best use of the team resources.

 

Productive Deviations: Nurturing Collaboration, Alignment, and Creativity

1. Connecting as humans at the beginning of the meeting

Feel free to share something personal, vulnerable or positive at the beginning of the meeting. It has been proven to help the quality of the discussion later.

Connecting as humans with your team members is not a waste of time.

2. Taking the time to define what problem we are solving for

I have found this to be the most challenging stage for teams. The conversation can often feel like going on tangents because there is no framing yet. We have yet to agree on what we are solving for.

While this stage can be challenging and messy, it is the most important. You will waste a lot of time later if you do not define the problem clearly for everyone involved.

3. Suggesting more ideas

When you are in the Develop ideas stage, you want to encourage more diverse solutions on the table.

Often people are itching to move on to the Decide stage to push their favourite idea. So they get exasperated when new ideas keep coming in.

Bringing more ideas before moving on is not a tangent. It is what separates creative and innovative companies from the rest.

4. Bringing and discussing dissenting views

People who are uncomfortable with conflict will call it a tangent.

They would prefer a world where everyone is magically aligned, and we can quickly move to decisions, closure and action.

Productive conflict, while uncomfortable, helps you challenge your assumptions and improve your decisions.

Encourage it before you reach a decision. Once you have decided, you can ask people to commit even if they disagree.

5. Defining the decision-making process

Discussing the decision-making process itself can ensure more commitment to the decision from team members.

Are we looking for consensus, majority rule, or is there a decision owner who will decide after consulting with the team?

What are the decision-making criteria?

Almost everyone skips these clarifications and jump to debating the solutions. Many end up with decisions that don’t have the team’s buy-in.

6. Who does what by when, and who needs to be informed

Often teams assume that once they reach a decision, the next steps are clear to all. They rarely are. Create an explicit action and communication plan.

7. Reflections on the team process

Taking a step back from the content of the discussion to reflect on the team process can be transformational. How do we show up? Are we inclusive? Are we attacking each other? Are we leaving things unsaid?

Reflecting on the team process is not a tangent; it is what ensures the team is learning and improving its collaboration.

 

Conclusion

People often hate productive “tangents” because they feel uncomfortable:

  • Conflict
  • The messiness of not knowing
  • The lack of “efficiency” as you explore paths you will end up not taking
  • The delay of closure, clarity and certainty

All those situations are uncomfortable. For some people, they can even be unbearable. But they are often necessary when the decision at hand is an important one.

In our pursuit to have a short, efficient and comfortable discussion, we might compromise the quality of the decision, the commitment of the team and the final results.

Not all tangents are created equal. While some deviations can disrupt and hinder team discussions, others can be beneficial. They foster collaboration, alignment, and creativity.

Recognizing the difference between unproductive and productive tangents is vital for team members to navigate discussions effectively.

If this guide was helpful, let me know in the comments.

 

Download my free guide with the 10 Powerful Mindset Shifts To Achieve Your Vision.

Discover:
What are the 10 telltale signs that you are living your vision?
What are the 3 things you might think you need for success but you really don’t.
The 10 mindset shifts all my clients who enjoy success in all areas of their lives have made.

Link here.

SHARE THIS POST

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email
WhatsApp
Picture of Caterina Kostoula

Caterina Kostoula

Caterina Kostoula is an executive coach and founder of The Leaderpath.

Her mission is to coach pioneering leaders for impact and fulfilment.

She has worked as a Global Business Leader at Google where she was
also a 5-star rated internal coach. She has coached leaders and teams from Google, Amazon, Stripe and Workable, as well as a number of startups.

Caterina teaches the popular Life Vision Programme at INSEAD Business School.

Her work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and Thrive Global. Her best-selling book, “Hold Successful Meetings”, was published by Penguin in 2021. Her TEDx talk is called “Do your goals prevent your success?”

Education

– MSc in Executive Coaching from Ashridge Business School (EMCC-accredited)

– INSEAD MBA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RELATED POSTS
A woman lost and suffering in a maze garden looking for the right path to overcome

The 3 Thoughts That Cause Suffering And How To Overcome Them

Discover how to alleviate suffering by accepting reality and embracing your emotions. Learn the importance of letting go of resistance and finding true healing, even in the face of significant loss or trauma. This journey to emotional resilience will help you navigate life’s toughest trials with strength and compassion.

Message Caterina Kostoula

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Where can we send your free guide?

Almost there! Please enter your email and click the button below to access the Let Go Of Everything That Does Not Align With Your Vision Guide and my weekly Life Vision newsletter.

Marketing by

Is it a tangent, or does this discussion make you feel uncomfortable?

According to the dictionary, a tangent is a completely different line of thought or action.

In a world with unrelenting pressure to speed up, and exhausting, back-to-back meetings, tangents in team conversations get a bad rap.

As a team coach, I have observed teams often mislabeling uncomfortable discussions as tangents.

There are clear distinctions between productive and unproductive tangents and I wanted to share them here.

 

Unproductive Tangents: Going Off Course and Derailing Progress

1. Completely off-topic

When team members veer off into unrelated subjects, it can cause the conversation to lose focus and drift away from the matter at hand.

You want to cut those tangents; otherwise, the team members get frustrated and the productivity suffers.

2. Jumping to different decision-making stages prematurely

The 4D Meeting Framework© from my book Hold Successful Meetings explains the four steps to solve any problem:

  • Define the problem or the goal
  • Develop ideas
  • Decide the way forward
  • Do what you decided

Most team discussions are unproductive because team members are at different stages of this process at every moment.

Someone already pushes an idea for a decision while the other does not even agree there is a problem.

As individuals, we jump back and forth between those stages, but at a team level, this creates chaos.

For example, it is unproductive when someone jumps to ideas when we haven’t defined the problem yet.

Or when someone tears one idea down when we are in the developing ideas stage and not in the decision-making.

3. Getting bogged down in the details

According to Parkinson’s role of triviality, teams will spend much more time debating a $100 decision than a $1,000,000 decision.

What coffee maker we should buy for the kitchen can take longer than whether we should acquire a business.

There are several reasons for this, such as defence against stress or choosing to debate what’s more familiar and known. Still, it is not the best use of the team resources.

 

Productive Deviations: Nurturing Collaboration, Alignment, and Creativity

1. Connecting as humans at the beginning of the meeting

Feel free to share something personal, vulnerable or positive at the beginning of the meeting. It has been proven to help the quality of the discussion later.

Connecting as humans with your team members is not a waste of time.

2. Taking the time to define what problem we are solving for

I have found this to be the most challenging stage for teams. The conversation can often feel like going on tangents because there is no framing yet. We have yet to agree on what we are solving for.

While this stage can be challenging and messy, it is the most important. You will waste a lot of time later if you do not define the problem clearly for everyone involved.

3. Suggesting more ideas

When you are in the Develop ideas stage, you want to encourage more diverse solutions on the table.

Often people are itching to move on to the Decide stage to push their favourite idea. So they get exasperated when new ideas keep coming in.

Bringing more ideas before moving on is not a tangent. It is what separates creative and innovative companies from the rest.

4. Bringing and discussing dissenting views

People who are uncomfortable with conflict will call it a tangent.

They would prefer a world where everyone is magically aligned, and we can quickly move to decisions, closure and action.

Productive conflict, while uncomfortable, helps you challenge your assumptions and improve your decisions.

Encourage it before you reach a decision. Once you have decided, you can ask people to commit even if they disagree.

5. Defining the decision-making process

Discussing the decision-making process itself can ensure more commitment to the decision from team members.

Are we looking for consensus, majority rule, or is there a decision owner who will decide after consulting with the team?

What are the decision-making criteria?

Almost everyone skips these clarifications and jump to debating the solutions. Many end up with decisions that don’t have the team’s buy-in.

6. Who does what by when, and who needs to be informed

Often teams assume that once they reach a decision, the next steps are clear to all. They rarely are. Create an explicit action and communication plan.

7. Reflections on the team process

Taking a step back from the content of the discussion to reflect on the team process can be transformational. How do we show up? Are we inclusive? Are we attacking each other? Are we leaving things unsaid?

Reflecting on the team process is not a tangent; it is what ensures the team is learning and improving its collaboration.

 

Conclusion

People often hate productive “tangents” because they feel uncomfortable:

  • Conflict
  • The messiness of not knowing
  • The lack of “efficiency” as you explore paths you will end up not taking
  • The delay of closure, clarity and certainty

All those situations are uncomfortable. For some people, they can even be unbearable. But they are often necessary when the decision at hand is an important one.

In our pursuit to have a short, efficient and comfortable discussion, we might compromise the quality of the decision, the commitment of the team and the final results.

Not all tangents are created equal. While some deviations can disrupt and hinder team discussions, others can be beneficial. They foster collaboration, alignment, and creativity.

Recognizing the difference between unproductive and productive tangents is vital for team members to navigate discussions effectively.

If this guide was helpful, let me know in the comments.

 

Download my free guide with the 10 Powerful Mindset Shifts To Achieve Your Vision.

Discover:
What are the 10 telltale signs that you are living your vision?
What are the 3 things you might think you need for success but you really don’t.
The 10 mindset shifts all my clients who enjoy success in all areas of their lives have made.

Link here.