Facilitating Six Sigma Project Meetings

James Lewis

There is no doubt that if you are managing a Six Sigma project, you will conduct a lot of meetings as part of the process. There are two major issues with meetings. First, they tend to waste a lot of time because of meeting management (or maybe I should say mismanagement) problems. They have no clear agenda; and when they do, they often lose focus and get off onto tangents. They go on ad nauseum, have to be repeated, and end up being avoided by people who find them frustrating.

Second, they do not take advantage of all of the human resources present. It seems to me that if you are going to have a Six Sigma project meeting, you should take advantage of the your resources, or why would you invite people to the Six Sigma meeting to begin with? So let’s examine why we so often lose the talents of the people who are present.

Extroverts vs. Introverts—How They May Affect the Group Dynamic of Your Six Sigma Project Meetings

We all know that in Six Sigma project meetings there are some individuals who tend to dominate and others who say very little. There is often a significant reason for this. Some members are extroverts and some are introverts. The population as a whole is fairly balanced—about 50/50. However, in technical groups the balance is frequently about 25 percent extroverts and 75 percent introverts.

To begin with, it is important to understand the definition of these two terms, as I have found that they are very misunderstood. The terms themselves were coined by Carl Jung to indicate how people are energized. Extroverts are energized by interacting with the outside world, whether it be people or things (such as computers, machines, etc.). Introverts, by contrast, are energized from within themselves by ideas, concepts and imagination. So they do not interact with the outside world nearly as strongly as the extroverts do.

Now one of the characteristics of the extrovert is that she may have to "think out loud" to figure out what she thinks about a subject. This means that she will participate heavily in Six Sigma project meetings because she is trying to understand an issue. The introvert will sit and ponder an issue internally, trying to make sense of it, and so participates less frequently than the extrovert. (These are general tendencies and are not 100 percent valid because most people are a blend of introvert/extrovert, rather than being purely one or the other.)

Another factor that affects Six Sigma project meeting behavior is that extroverts can think in a very noisy environment, but introverts are very distracted by noise—particularly someone else’s chatter. So while the extrovert is trying to determine what she thinks about an issue by talking through it, the introvert is often sitting quietly thinking, "I wish she would shut up so I can think!" And sometimes, because of the floor time taken by the talkative extrovert, the group is moving on to another topic before the introvert has reached a conclusion about his own position.

The Voting Effect—Something Else to be Wary of While Conducting Six Sigma Project Meetings

That is just one outcome of this personality difference. It is serious enough, but there is another effect that is highly significant for problem-solving groups. This is the voting effect, which was discovered by Dr. Norman R.F. Maier in the 1960s. Let us assume that a group is trying to determine which of several alternative solutions should be adopted to solve a problem. I am, of course, assuming that the problem being addressed is open-ended, so that multiple solutions exist.

So assume that we have three solution possibilities, and the Six Sigma project team is discussing the merits of each. What tends to happen is that the Six Sigma project team will divide into "camps," each of which prefers a different alternative. So in one camp we have two very vocal extroverts, who think that alternative "A" is the best. In another camp we have two introverts and an extrovert and they think alternative "B" is best. Finally, in another camp are three introverts who prefer alternative "C." The remaining members of the Six Sigma project team are undecided.

Every time the vocal extroverts express their opinion that a certain alternative is best, we consider that a vote. What Dr. Maier found was that the alternative that receives 15 more votes than the others will be accepted by the group 85 percent of the time, regardless of its actual merits. This is extremely important to understand.

What this means is that when you facilitate a Six Sigma project group session like this, you must keep the extroverts from building up the votes for their preference. You must draw out the introverts, give them equal "floor" time to present their views, and you must do it in a way that does not show disrespect for the extroverts.

One way to do this is to explain this group dynamic to everyone and ask them to balance their discussion. However, you may not have time for this, so you can simply say to the extroverts, "I am clear on your position about alternative ‘X.’ I would like to hear the thoughts of some others about alternatives ‘Y’ and ‘Z.’ What are your thoughts, (and you call on people by name)?"

By employing this facilitation method, you should get much better results from your Six Sigma project team meetings.