Collaboration Patterns – Part 2

Recently I caught a few minutes of a CSPAN interview with Chief Justice John Roberts, part of a larger presentation on the Supreme Court (sorry, I could not find a link to it) that talked about how they handle deciding cases. At some point after oral arguments they convene in a meeting room where only the Justices are allowed, and then:

  • They start every meeting by shaking hands with each each other
  • They discuss each case with the Chief stating his views, and then they proceed around the table in order of seniority
  • No one comments until everyone has had a turn

It’s fairly strict as patterns go, though I can see why they would adopt it, all too easy to fall into heated arguments over a minor point in the bigger picture, or spend all day on a case that should take 30 minutes. I see a couple downsides from a business perspective:

  • It assumes everyone has studied the issue more or less equally
  • Those not speaking have to wait a while to ask any follow up questions. Good not to interrupt, but waiting an hour to ask a follow up could be frustrating.
  • It’s often good to let the person leading the proposal lead the discussion, and then go to the round-the-table approach
  • It’s often good to let junior or newer members of the team speak first, or they tend to defer to whatever the more senior members think

Many will say that having a moderator obviates the need for these patterns. The problem is that great moderators are hard to find, have to be well versed in the issue (short of just enforcing rules of order), and are usually reluctant to override a senior person who decides to change course in mid meeting.

One pattern isn’t going to fit all, but a set of a few patterns would probably work well. I can see it being very effective to identify on a per meeting section or per agenda item what pattern will be applied. Then the group collectively understands the desired behavior and enforces it.