When the going gets tough, what do you do?
Do you dig in or give up?
In a recent innovation workshop, a senior leader committed to making a significant change to their team meetings. Let's call him Mark. Mark realised that mostly his meetings were broadcast mode and this was limiting his team’s ability to be open and share ideas. Now to many of you, this might seem straight-forward and a no brainer. So why is it that so many team meetings are actually like this?
Mark planned carefully for his meeting. He opened with a question and was met with stoney silence. No-one spoke up. It was awkward and painful. He tried a different tack by explaining more about the context of his question but still nothing was forthcoming. So he skipped back into his normal mode and shared what he needed and the team merrily got on their way. He was frustrated but determined not to give up.
Where the rubber meets the road
Now this is where the rubber really meets the road. It would have been easy to give up and notch it down to 'tried but failed' and moved on. Instead, Mark decided that he needed to understand why his team didn’t speak up so he asked them. He got responses like “ You caught us by surprise” “I wasn’t ready for it, I had my notebook to take notes” “I wasn’t sure what you wanted” Now his team are articulate, capable people so he was surprised by these responses.
He took his time and over the intervening week, he spoke to them all individually explaining that he understood that his approach needed to change to allow them to have a greater voice (showing vulnerability). He explained why this was important (for the business and for their own development) then he asked a vital question, “what will help you feel more confident in this situation?” (providing safe involvement). The answers helped him (and the team) in his next session. This is what he did:
He sent out a communication thanking them all for their ideas and explaining what he took from their ideas.
He followed this up with a quick slack message outlining the key challenge he’d like to explore with them during the meeting so they had time to think beforehand
He introduced the meeting by explaining the context more fully so his team understood why this challenge was important to address and then posed the key question.
He split the team into smaller groups and asked them to chat about it together by brainstorming ideas – all ideas welcome and these were written up on post it notes.
The small groups then identified their top 5 ideas and passed these to the team on their left who then discussed them and agreed the best idea.
The best ideas were written on the board and as a whole group they then discussed it and deepened their ideas further.
The meeting ended with the leader thanking everyone for their input, outlining what he had taken from the session and agreeing next steps together, allocating action points to relevant people.
Why not have a listen to my 'Leadership Edge' podcast for a lively discussion about leadership in current times?
What happens now?
Now, this team are several months on. Different people take responsibility for each team meeting. They decide how they’d like to structure it so the process continues to evolve. The pressure is off the leader, the team are enjoying ‘playing together’ and trust runs high. The energy and commitment from the team continues to grow. What remains consistent is the leader checking in with the team how it’s going in between meetings and the way Mark opens and closes the sessions. Not all team meetings are the same, sometimes he does need to broadcast messages but he always makes sure that there is involvement (no matter how small) in every meeting.
I share this story with you because in the day to day busyness of the leader’s world it is easy to slip into the habit of broadcast mode. It’s safe, it’s easy and it’s clear. It is also boring, debilitating for your team and stops you making progress. Your actions are preventing your team from thinking; from growing.
We often hear leaders complaining that their team don’t contribute or that they wished they contributed more. If this is you, then rethink your approach – after all leaders go first.
If you are keen to reboot your meetings then grab a copy of our ‘Collaborate’ booklet for quick and easy ideas.