I had the pleasure of being a mentor at Startup Weekend Stamford last weekend. If you haven’t heard about or been a part of one of these, the site gives a pretty good explanation about what the weekend is about:
All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54 hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation. The weekends culminate with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback.
My job was to wander around and help the teams refine their thinking (without doing the thinking for them) and their products. In the process, I saw a lot of interesting group dynamics at work and that’s what I want to blog about today. Actually, it’s less about the group than it is about one very large mouth and the negative effect it can have on an enterprise.
Now as someone who has, over the years, been accused of owning exactly that sort of intrusive, large pie-hole, this might be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. However, one group in particular had a guy who brought his vision to the table and was extremely insistent that his was THE vision for the business. When others would raise points that conflicted with or negated something in his mind, there was head-shaking and an insistence that if only they could understand HIS vision they would succumb to its brilliance. It got to the point where one part of the group split off and under the guise of putting together a rough presentation managed to refine the product taking everyone’s input into account.
I’ve seen this a lot in business. One person – the one with the big mouth and the even larger cache of certainty – can derail an entire group. In this case, several of the quieter participants has a lot of good things to say yet until I asked them to speak out hadn’t been able to interject. As a manager, you need to make sure all voices are heard – even those who might not have much to contribute. As a team member, you need to listen to all points of view and consider them. Ask fact-based questions until the wisdom of the point becomes clear or falls away.
Part of what ails us these days, both in and out of business, is the shouting. We need big ears, not big mouths, if we’re to succeed. You agree?