On Tuesday night I went to the Girl Geek Sydney meetup at DiUS, with a presentation by Caoilte Dunne how individuals wield power in teams, and how to deal with this, particularly in meetings.

As I currently manage a small team, the talk was really applicable to my work. Caoilte gave lots of tips, crowdsourced from female relatives and friends, on how to more involve “passive” team members, and minimise hijacking by “dominant” members.

According to Caoilte, we all sit on a scale between passive and dominant. This is a fluid scale, so you may be more passive in some situations and more dominant in others. Generally, women tend to the more passive end of the scale and men to the more dominant end. Caoilte discussed how, as women, we’ve grown up in a “wicked environment” that has socialised us to be that way, and work in an environment where women are often still looked to for “admin” (notetaking) and “mum” (cleaning up after meetings) jobs.

Caoilte listed some types of power that people may wield in meetings:

  1. Hard power - I’m your boss/senior so you should do what I say
  2. Informational power - I’ve read many books and I read this in a book so you should do what I say
  3. Expert power - I’m very well qualified and have been here for a long time you should do what I say
  4. Referent power - You like me you should do what I say.

Some of Caoilte tips included:

  • having an agenda and a set goal or outcome for meetings
  • having a facilitator for meetings to keep to the agenda and make sure the team reaches the decision they need to reach
  • having the facilitor or team leader ensure that everyone in the meeting has their say
  • decide prior to meetings how the team will make decisions (majority vote, leader decides etc.), write this down and display it where you meet
  • approach more passive/less confident team members prior to the meeting to make sure they know why they’re wanted there and that their contribution is valuable
  • approach more dominant team members prior to the meeting to let them “talk themselves out” so they’ll talk less in meetings
  • having rehearsed phrases in mind to say if you’re interupted or if someone steals your idea, rather than just getting frustrated (e.g. “excuse me, Gerald, I hadn’t finished what I was saying, can I please finish”)
  • women backing up other women (and men backing up women too, I’d hope!)

I’d highly recommend either reading through Caoilte’s slides on Slideshare, or going to his presentation next time he makes it. While this one was definitely aimed at an audience of women in tech, I think men would have also got a lot out of it (even if it’s just to recognise where you sit on the dominant/passive scale and then be more aware of how you act in meetings and how you wield your power.

I particularly liked that at the end of the meeting some of the women tried to help put the chairs back in the place (which is part of respecting the sponsor’s space which they’ve let us use, but could also be considered a “mum” job), and Caoilte wouldn’t let them!