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BioPerspectives

Stop Killing and “Plopping” Ideas

This final part of a four-part series presents a discussion scoring tool to help project teams develop ideas.
  • William Ronco, Ph.D.

Despite their members’ extensive knowledge and experience, many project teams struggle to solve problems, make bad decisions, and fail to solve problems. The Discussion Scoring Tool helps project teams increase effective communications and achieve new levels of performance.

Project teams must perform at high levels developing diverse members’ ideas because each team member typically brings unique insights and deep knowledge about specific topics to discussions. Because team members’ input usually impacts other team members, it’s not enough for some team members to simply allow others’ opinions to hold sway. Effective groups require all team members to actively engage, develop, and advance one another’s ideas. Project teams can use the Discussion Scoring Tool to assess and improve their effectiveness developing team member’s ideas.

How To Score Discussions

The Team Discussion Scorecard consists of one page divided into three columns, labeled D, K, and P. Your team will get the most from the scorecard if you use a flip chart page and designate a team member to sit outside the group keeping score for several five-minute time blocks. The scorekeeper draws a line marker each time a team member speaks, labeling each spoken line as D, K, or P following these guidelines:

D = Develop. Score team members’ comments “D” when they Develop the previous speaker’s ideas. Developing the idea means adding to it, enlarging it, and taking it to a next level that perhaps the original speaker didn’t consider.

K = Kill. Score team members’ comments “K” when they stop (“Kill”) the previous speaker’s idea. K’s are often pronouncements, exclamations, or strongly worded opinions. They may be correct, but the problem is that they halt—often prematurely—the development of the previous speaker’s thinking. Examples include, “That’s wrong!” “There you go again,” “You’re just reinventing the wheel,” or “No, no, no! I think we should do…” (the opposite of what the first speaker suggested).

P = Plop. Score team members’ comments “P” when they stop the development of the previous speaker’s ideas, but more quietly, passively than a Kill. When team members Plop another team member’s idea, they often ignore what the first team member said, change the subject and then assert their own idea or opinion.

Why Increase Your Team’s “Develops”?

The most effective teams consistently score a large proportion of Develops, and few Kills or Plops in their discussions. It’s important for project teams to increase their proportion of “Develops” in group discussions because actively engaging, developing another team member’s idea:

  • is often the only way for any team member to fully recognize the impacts the idea may have on his / her own work.
  • delivers on the potential of cross-functional teams to develop real cross-functional solutions, not just compromises or work-arounds.
  • has the potential to achieve team solutions that demonstrate synergy, the kind of 1+1=3 results that groups can achieve developing ideas. When team members develop each others’ ideas, the team usually devises solutions that no one team member could have devised alone.

Four Ways to Increase Your Project Team’s Idea Development

Project teams can increase the quantity and quality of their Development of team members’ ideas by:

  1. Scoring D / K / P. Simply recognizing and discussing their Develop, Kill, and Plop scores helps them increase their proportion of Develops. Having learned the meaning of the labels, team members use them like “foul” calls to let others know when they think their ideas are being killed or plopped.
  2. Active Listening begins with team members “bracketing” their own opinions, putting them aside for a few minutes in order to engage others’ ideas. Instead of quickly responding that they disagree with another team member’s idea, they might say, “You sound committed to that point of view,” or “To you, it seems like we need to take a different course of action.”
  3. Imagining Out Loud provides a more advanced approach to developing others’ ideas. In this, team members “imagine out loud” next steps, metaphors, or images relating to the initial team members’ idea.
  4. Yes-And is the approach used in training for improvisation skills. In this, the listener enthusiastically responds “Yes and” to the other person’s idea and then takes the person’s idea to a creative, often surprising next step. (Del Close, the Improv expert who trained many of the original Saturday Night Live cast, provides a useful and entertaining description of the Yes-And approach in his book Truth In Comedy.)

It’s important to note that the effectiveness of all these techniques depends not so much on specific formulas for wording. The techniques’ effectiveness requires that the person using them shift from the typical “Kill” impulse to a real effort to listen with an open mind and work with an idea that they may disagree with.

Samples of these Active Listening, Imagining Out Loud, and Yes-And responses to a Statistician’s idea, “I think we need a much larger sample size” are:

Active Listening: “You sound concerned.”
Imagining Out Loud: “So, you’re thinking a small sample would jeopardize all our good work so far.”
Yes-And: “Yes, and if we enlarged the sample, we could also test more effectively for side effects as well as for efficacy.”

Any of these approaches develop the idea, adding new insights and opinions much more than the typical “Kill” response: “That’s ridiculous. You’re just being overly cautious.”

This is the fourth of a four-part series on improving project teams. Parts 1 and 2 described the predictable, recurring problems project teams encounter. This post and Part 3 detail actions project teams can take to improve decision-making and problem solving.