There's a fairy tale going on in your office right now. Disagree? Try to remember that last meeting. Was there someone half asleep or nearly bored to tears? You were working with Sleepy. Was there a grouchy, my-way-or-the-highway person? Say hello to Grumpy. Got a few know-it-alls in your midst? You're working with a group of Docs. This is the premise behind the Snow White Test, a diagnostic tool designed to help meeting leaders identify and deal with the "Dwarf types" that populate meetings. The rationale is, when you identify which of the Seven Dwarves are in your meeting, you'll be able to run a more productive meeting by playing on each person's strengths and weaknesses.
Written by Sharon Livingston, founder of Executive Solutions Inc. in Syosset, New York, the Snow White test asks questions about where a person sits in meetings as well as what kind of comments he or she is likely to make during a meeting. Entrepreneurs can take the test to find out which Dwarf types are hanging out around the board room. You can even apply the techniques to meetings with clients or investors.
Livingston first happened upon the idea when she was facilitating focus groups. She noticed she was seeing the character traits-Sneezy, Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy and Bashful-come out over and over again in the course of her meetings. "And I would notice that they tended to sit in the same seats-for example, Happy always sat to the leader's right, and Grumpy sat opposite the leader," she says. "It was just so fascinating how that happened."
After singling out the Dwarf type, the next step was to figure out how to make those traits work toward the purpose of the meeting. Livingston remembers a conference where one woman kept sitting opposite her and being confrontational. "She [thought] I didn't like her, but I didn't even know her!" recalls Livingston. Determined to try out her theory, Livingston decided to switch seats so the Grumpy-type person would be on her right-hand side (traditionally a spot of support). "Behold, I was her best friend. I didn't do anything different but sit next to her."
Livingston outlines different tools to help meeting leaders deal with each personality type. Ask Grumpy, who is outwardly confrontational but inwardly wants to be part of the family yet still maintain his or her own identity, to help in the meeting with some leadership responsibilities. They can man the flip-sheet, for example, or in some other way be visible in a leadership role. Happy, on the other hand, wants to please everyone, but is often afraid of giving a true opinion. Say something like, "There are only right answers here-I want everyone to speak freely," to allay Happy's fear. Looking Happy directly in the eye to encourage a straightforward opinion is another option. And because Bashful is afraid of being put on the spot, you might try having everybody write their ideas down and read them off-if Bashful is reading from a paper and not speaking off the cuff, it might be easier.
No matter who makes up your meetings, the Snow White Test can be a fun way to get everyone to a productive place. Plus, it has an added bonus: "It gives you a lot of freedom and takes the pressure off," says Livingston. "Instead of thinking, 'Oh my God, am I OK?,' you're thinking, 'Let's see how I can take care of these people and make them more comfortable."