Tip #2 for Working Smarter
Last month’s installment of 5 Tips for Working Smarter emphasized the importance of establishing rituals that help us stay balanced and productive. But often getting things done depends on our ability to collaborate with others—team members, peers, etc.—with whom we interface regularly. Meetings are an important touchstone for keeping those relationships positive, healthy and productive.
Recently a client invited me to work with her and her executive team—a smart and high integrity group of professionals—to help them improve their teamwork. In advance of my coming, I asked the group to read Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which I still think is the most honest look at the issues real teams face. Like many teams I have worked with, they seemed uncomfortable and resistant at first: “We’re not dysfunctional,” or “Why is our leader bringing her coach?” Over dinner (with wine, the “great elixir of truth”) it became clear that there were some tensions on the team. My opening remarks and invitation for them to share some of their personal background were met with awkward silence and discomfort.
As the evening wore on, however, they began to share. A senior member of the team—the only male—with a successful military career behind him, admitted that he was very challenged as a young cadet at West Point. His statement was met with surprise; this was clearly not a guy who ever admits he sweats. Another team member, who was perceived as a bit aloof, shared that, as an oldest child of 5 kids, she now preferred to be alone much of the time. These honest comments about their lives helped them understand each other and make sense of each other’s uniqueness.
The next day I asked the members to give each of their colleagues feedback regarding one of his/her strengths and one least effective behavior or quality. There were groans and pushback, even fears expressed: “How can telling someone what bothers you about them make you feel closer?” But it led to a flood of helpful information, and they were surprised to find that it gave them a sense of safety and a closer bond. Even the more introverted members were speaking up more boldly, there was more laughter, and best of all the tension in the room was gone.
The success of that meeting helped them understand not only each other but also the problem that was holding them back: their meetings were boring, unproductive and did not help them as a team. In fact, they didn’t really feel like a team. Together, they redesigned their whole meeting structure. Here are some of the changes they made:
- Meet 2 x month instead of weekly (this doesn’t work for all teams, but was more practical for this one)
- Have a 5 minute “check in” at the beginning of each meeting to understand one another’s accomplishments and challenges (builds interpersonal understanding)
- Replace tedious updates with “lightning rounds” of just the top 3 priorities they are working on (builds peer to peer accountability)
Before I departed one team member expressed her concern that they wouldn’t be able to maintain these positive changes. An understandable concern. My advice: “Use your voice.” Each team member, leader or not, has the ability to speak up and say what’s working and what’s not working. Teams who develop a norm of open and honest communication have the healthiest relationships and higher productivity.