By Tom Many, EdD and Susan Sparks

Are your team meetings a zoo? As the team leader, do you sometimes feel more like a zookeeper than a facilitator? Are you constantly looking for better ways to deal with the Hogs, Logs and Frogs on your team?

Disruptive teammates are a major distraction during team meetings. The consequences of disruptive behavior can be significant and if left unchecked will undermine relationships, slow progress, and ultimately affect student learning. When team leaders utilize norms, roles, and protocols during team meetings they can eliminate, or at least minimize, the undesirable impact of Hogs, Logs and Frogs.

Recognizing and Responding to Disruptive Behavior
Spencer Kagan first used the terms ‘Hogs’ and ‘Logs’ to describe different types of disruptive behavior within the context of cooperative learning. We’ve added a third type—‘Frogs”—and believe his descriptions apply equally well to collaborative teams. Regardless of which is present on your team, the inappropriate behavior of Hogs, Logs and Frogs will certainly make collaboration more difficult.

Hogs are described as someone who dominates conversations. There could be many reasons why Hogs never stop talking. Perhaps Hogs monopolize a team’s discussions because they are nervous or feel inadequate. Maybe they prefer to control what is talked about or have lots of experience with a particular topic. Perhaps a Hog believes talking out loud is simply how they process information; they just think out-loud. Hogs don’t always monopolize team meetings on purpose—sometimes they just can’t help themselves—but whatever the reason, Hogs are willing and able to take over a team meeting if others will let them.

The problem with this type of behavior is that Hogs take up all the ‘airspace’ while failing to acknowledge the expertise and perspectives of their teammates. When teammates perceive them as someone who is controlling, doesn’t listen or doesn’t care what others think, Hogs can cause hard feelings and resentment.

To counter the impact of Hogs, team leaders should establish norms that encourage listening and discourage interrupting, rely on the role of Air Traffic Controller to maintain balanced levels of participation, and use protocols like Chalk Talk to prevent any one individual from hijacking a team meeting.

Logs are happy to sit back, let others do the work and allow the Hogs to take over. Logs are reluctant to volunteer or engage in meaningful conversations; are often perceived as not caring, incompetent or lacking knowledge and expertise; or just not interested in working with their teammates. Any number of things can explain why Logs don’t participate but rather than engage in a productive dialogue about teaching and learning, they withdraw.

Some Logs justify their reservations about being a part of a team because they view the entire collaborative process as nothing more than a compliance activity. When Logs do not weigh in on team topics or share what they are thinking their teammates may mistakenly believe that Logs are being passive aggressive. If this happens, team productivity suffers.
When responding to Logs, team leaders should establish specific norms and expectations that encourage every team member to contribute, rely on the Process Observer role to engage everyone in team deliberations, and use protocols like “Say Something” to ensure each team member fulfills their responsibility to participate.

Frogs have a hard time staying focused on the task at hand and can be just as disruptive as Hogs and Logs. Any numbers of things cause Frogs to lose focus. They may be predisposed to more abstract ways of thinking, less committed to team goals or unable to prioritize well. Frogs seem to ignore the agenda and hop from topic to topic while musing whimsically about whatever interests them in the moment.

Regardless of the reason, Frogs are easily distracted and can momentarily take team meetings in random directions if allowed to do so. When their behavior becomes a distraction, Frogs generate frustration amongst their colleagues as team meetings become inefficient and ineffective.

To manage the impact of Frogs, team leaders should articulate the purpose and non-purpose of the team meeting, trust the Facilitator’s role to maintain the pace and focus of meetings, and rely on protocols such as “Last Word” to maintain a spotlight on the task at hand.

Three Ways to Manage Disruptive Behavior
The most effective team leaders realize disruptive behavior by even one member can damage relationships and diminish the productivity of the entire collaborative team. Adopting a zero-tolerance attitude towards disruptive behavior is one step towards eliminating them but team leaders can also rely on the regular use of norms, greater clarity around roles, and the effective use of protocols to mitigate disruptive behaviors.

Norms represent the social etiquette of a team and most teams have norms that describe what respectful participation looks and sounds like. When norms are regularly reviewed and reinforced, they reduce the chances disruptive behaviors will occur. However, if unproductive behaviors are not challenged, the behaviors are likely to continue.

Another strategy teams find beneficial is the clarification of team roles and responsibilities. The key to the effective use of roles is to ‘first define, then assign.’ When team members reach agreement on the responsibilities of each role before assigning the roles, the likelihood that team members will respect and respond to the roles increases exponentially.

Finally, team leaders can use protocols to minimize the impact of Hogs, Logs, and Frogs. The effective use of protocols promotes more respectful listening, higher levels of engagement, and strengthens inquiry.

Why Addressing Disruptive Behavior Matters
It is no longer acceptable to tolerate disruptive behaviors. Whether it is the non-stop banter of Hogs, the apathy displayed by Logs or the distractions created by Frogs; if these behaviors are present, they will damage a team’s productivity and relationships. Every member of a collaborative team has the responsibility to act in a professional manner; in fact, a healthy and productive team culture free from disruptive and distracting behaviors depends on it.

Dr. Tom Many is an author and consultant. His career in education spans more than 30 years.

Susan Sparks is an educational consultant who helps teams and districts develop more successful schools through facilitation, training and coaching.

TEPSA News, January/February 2018, Vol 75, No 1

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