Using Data to Deal with Vocal Squeaky-WheelsIs your meeting or team too often dominated by one vocal person who forcefully pushes his or her point of view as if they’re speaking on behalf of everyone else? Do you often suspect their position is not shared by most others but find he or she has hijacked the discussion? Do you have people update you on a meeting or training session that you didn’t attend and make it sound like one issue or discussion dominated the entire discussion?

Recently, I facilitated a management team offsite retreat that featured “moose hunting exercises” (like elephant-in-the-room or dealing with “800 pound gorillas”) to identify and address key issues. As touchy issues were raised many participants were either reluctant to speak up or their introverted communication style caused them to hold back from a free flowing discussion.

This is where gathering and debating data is so critical. At a few key points when we were trying to determine the size of an issue or how widely shared a person’s vocal views were within the executive team, we did a few simple data gathering exercises. One variation involved drawing a scale of 1 – 9 with #1 being no problem at all, #5 a moderate problem, and #9 being a massive Bull Moose sized issue. Participants then wrote on a piece of paper the number they felt sized this problem. These anonymous votes were then collected and tallied. In a few cases, the discussion veered away from a few vocal minority points of view to what the team felt was the real issue.

Simple processes like this aren’t rigorous data-based methods. But they help to sort the vocal minority from the silent majority. As Quality guru, W. Edwards Deming, originally taught in what’s now morphed into Lean/Six Sigma approaches, this separates “the vital few” from the “trivial many.” That’s a key step in avoiding the squeaky-wheel problem to get at root causes and avoid tinkering with symptoms.