How to get a bunch of bigwigs in a room to agree on something.
“The more the merrier” doesn’t apply to meetings, and even less so when you have a bunch of higher-ups in the room. Angus Hildreth and Cameron Anderson of the Haas School of Business (UC Berkeley) found this to be true in their social science research. In both a lab and the real world, they found that a group of high-powered individuals are the least likely to arrive at a creative solution in a meeting.
But if you’re the person in charge of a project or proposal, you can’t just leave the room without unity. You’ll need to wade through the egos and differing opinions to help reach the consensus point. In reviewing summaries of Hildreth’s and Anderson’s work, we put together a gameplan to get you there.
Note which bigwig stakeholders are decision makers and which are consultants. Don’t make this info public. Use it to figure out how each stakeholders’ input will affect your own opinions.
For example, if a decision maker is adamant about keeping the budget at a certain number, you’ll want to heed their advice. If a consultant wants to spend more, let them know you’ll consider their input, but in reality, you likely will not.
2. Meet one on one with a few key higher-ups.
Set up individual meetings with the stakeholders that you are more comfortable with. Brief them on the initial idea and casually interview them to gather their fresh take.
If aligned with your original direction, build some initial trust and buy-in with them. Hildreth and Anderson’s research says that high-powered individuals on their own approach problem solving very intelligently. Let the higher-ups know you may use some of their input in your final proposal. They’ll be far more likely to back you up if they feel bought-in and heard once they’re in the larger meeting.
3. Get input from your comrades.
Don’t forget the power in numbers. Meet with your peers in either entry level or middle management. When power dynamics don’t exist, people can have fresh perspectives and collaborate better.
Hildreth and Anderson’s research shows that low- to medium-powered people came to an agreement over 80% of the time, compared to high-powered people who came to an impasse 59% of the time.
Many companies come to agreements this way. The worker bees put together a gameplan and then present to leadership so there aren’t as many loose ends to tie up.
4. In the main event, let egos breathe and share their perspectives for them.
Once the meeting starts, give the higher-ups time to show off their status, like a bird displaying feathers. But, make sure to set some guardrails and don’t hesitate to take back control of the meeting if it starts to derail. If you are the sole person responsible, it’s your job to wrangle.
Share the process you went through and include insights from the higher-ups you met with. High-powered individuals share fewer ideas amongst each other. But, if you disclose this information up front, it may help ease tensions.
5. If all else fails, be honest.
If the conversation is going south, feel free to reestablish what everyone came here to do in an appropriate way. While the move may feel risky, everyone should respect your own display of ego and control. And look to the higher-up you report to for final guidance. It can be done!
Building up the momentum and setting the stage should take you and your ragtag group of higher-ups where you need to go. Remember that data is also a helpful tool for proving why a direction should be taken. If you find yourself not reaching consensus, start the process over again. Use your key stakeholders to figure out a new path to success. After all, the company depends on it!