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Strategic Projects: Suffering from Nodding-Dog Syndrome?

It is a serious condition that could affect as many as two out of three strategic initiatives and project team meetings.  It is called “Nodding Dog Syndrome”, although it has nothing to do with dogs of course!

Nodding Dog Syndrome describes the all too common scenario where people attend a meeting, nod in agreement with what is being discussed or decided, but then go away and either do nothing or the opposite to what was agreed.  

Where is Nodding Dog Syndrome evident in your organization?

Nodding Dog Syndrome can be an important risk when it comes to the execution of strategy.  That is because behind every project or organizational failure (from Nokia to Blockbuster) is the story of people who saw the danger but chose to stay quiet. 

It is not that the people who kept quiet did not care or that they wanted failure to happen, rather they read the environment and recognized that they would not be listened to, or that they would be isolated or punished for speaking their mind. For example for being the lone voice to ‘call it’ – pointing out that a key deadlines or deliverable would inevitably slip.

How safe is it for your people to speak their mind?

Key symptoms of Nodding-Dog Syndrome are meetings where a few people do most, if not all the talking.  It is evident when people don’t join the discussion, when they don’t share their views and don’t question what is being said.

Now you might be tempted to say – what is wrong with people that they won’t contribute?  However, a better question might be: What is wrong with the environment that people don’t feel that they can or should join in? 

Could you be mistaking silence for agreement?

Nodding Dog Syndrome is especially frustrating for leaders who confuse silence with agreement or even an absence of disagreement with agreement.  The syndrome is prominent on teams where levels of trust and respect or psychological safety are low.  It is often a sign of a leader who talks to much and listens too little – a leader that does not display an interest in what other people think.

Nodding Dog Syndrome can even be present among experts – manifesting itself in unquestioning adherence to conceived wisdom and so called ‘groupthink’.

How can you ensure active engagement by all in project and team meetings?  How will you create an environment in which people feel it is safe to open-up – to speak their mind – even if (and indeed especially if) it forewarns of hidden dangers?

How can you prevent nodding-dog syndrome?

Creating an environment where people are encouraged to think differently and to share divergent views is key.  This is manifest in the leader:

  • Waiting to express their views – that is after others have had their chance to talk. 
  • Always asking ‘is there any another way of looking at this?
  • Being prepared to admit that they don’t always have the answer and are not always right
  • Being curious and showing some vulnerability.

Pitstop Analytics™ can diagnose nodding dog syndrome and its impact on the execution of strategic initiatives.  Moreover, it won’t just tackle the symptoms but will work on the underlying causes too.

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