Leaders are you having only BAU (Business as usual) conversations with your teams?
With the current VUCA and BANI world teams and leaders need new conversations.
Below I elaborate on the essential moves you need to make with your teams. Conversations that will lead to good health and thriving for both individuals and the team.
Disclaimer ahead: A team is not a group of people working together.
A team is actually created by the ongoing conversations among its members.
It is through these “conversations” that the team thrives.
The leader’s job is to ensure that these conversations produce shared commitments. Team members act out of ownership for these commitments. The Generative leadership framework defines teams in this way. Bob Dunhum thanks for basing these ideas in the centrality of conversations.
Why focus on “conversations”?
The purpose of a team is to produce specific RESULTS.
These RESULTS are produced through right ACTIONS.
The right ACTIONS arise from mutual COMMITMENT.
Our COMMITMENT derives from what we CARE about.
What are missing Conversations?
Effective teams have effective conversations. Missing or incomplete conversations lead to compromising a team’s success.
‘Missing conversations’ are those that are important but don’t happen between two people or within a team or within an organization.
- They don’t happen due to fear and anxiety about an issue.
- Some are internal conversations which people don’t prefer to reveal.
- Some missed conversations are due to the scare of negative judgements which might follow after raising an issue.
Missing conversations lead us to making up our own stories to explain away what is happening to us. We stay with discontent.
The Red Flags & what to do about them?
The ideas in this blog are credited to Bob Dunham and his powerful reframe on what generates results in teams. Bob and The Institute for Generative Leadership has a rich take on what makes thriving teams. While Bob points to 10 solid conversations this blog has the top 5 red flags I often work with.
Red Flag 1: Poor Alignment. Alignment is a commitment to a shared purpose, vision and values. When there is a breakdown here:
- We may see vision and mission as words on a plaque or the entrance of their workplace and nothing more
- We see a team but it is actually a group of people working together
- There is conflict and backbiting
- Individuals act territorial
- Unhelpful bargains and deals get made for resource sharing
- An overall mood of mistrust rules.
Such misaligned teams create a poor climate resulting in failed teamwork.They are known to be aggressive and uncaring with each other. Undercutting another, escalations to the top and complaining are the norm.
As a leader you need to lead a conversations on:
- Clarifying the goals that the team will hold and why they care about it.
- Designing roles, authorities and freedoms that supports the team’s work
- Each team member commits personally to the promises of the team
- Members choose to take risks. They speak about anything that may be derailing the team’s performance. As a leader you will need to work hard to first create some psychological safety for this.
- Alignment means bringing the openness to share personal assessments in some teaming domains. For example, ethics, guidelines, behaviours and role boundaries.
Red Flag 2 : Low Ownership. This is about members not owning the shared promise of the team at a personal level.
When this breaks down we see
- Each one blames ‘someone’ who did not do their work. No one is sure who is the ‘someone’!
- We do not question colleagues who slack on their commitments.
- We blame, shame and worse. We may target team members instead of seeing that we have failed as a whole team
- There is always an external locus of control or a justified reason for the lack of achieving the goals.
Such teams always have a finger to point at another person in the team or another team in the organization. They have rarely if ever practised giving constructive feedback. They openly take names and use disparaging language when they speak of other teams. It’s often all about ‘them’.
The leader needs to lead a conversation where:
- Team members talk about all the possible actions each one can take that makes the goal achievable.
- Team needs to understand that when anyone sees a threat to the team’s goals each person on the team recommits to own the shared goals. As a team, we examine our assessments and recommit to goals like it is a personal promise one is making.
- We agree on going beyond excuses. We see what is missing, we revisit our ‘Why’ and the shared standards we wish to hold ourselves to.
- We form new standards of performance and get our teams to commit to it.
Red Flag 3: Low Trust: When this isn’t working well we see
- People pleasing as it is too tough to say No
- Teams avoid talking about things that matter.
- Teams do not have processes where they can share upsets and complaints and feedback
- People do not make requests instead they grumble and blame
- Promises and agreements are not stuck to
A movie reference here is ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ where Ranveers has a dialogue which says “ yahan sab upar upar hi baat karte hain. Asal baat koi karta hi nahi’.
The leader needs to lead a conversation about
- Open, honest sharing of assessments
- Hurts and disappointments need to be discussed and normalized. It needs to be seen as a natural process of teamwork. Nobody is perfect.
- Complaints and apologies needed are made with respect and care
- What actions can renew trust as a team
- Agreements made but not managed well and we speak on this without judgment.
Red Flag 4. Poor Moods: This is about a team’s inability to hold a mood of success for the sake of meeting our goals.
- When teams hold de energizing moods we find resignation, resentment, complaints and escalations.
- Each member is minding their corner
- Personal connection is low.
- Moods can open or close possibilities for us. Despite having a great purpose when moods are not productive, meetings are a drag which doesn’t energize anyone!
I have sometimes met teams and found my own energy dip while am in the room with them. As a coach I find an overall sense of skepticism or resignation the toughest to work with. They have allowed so many assessment and assumptions to stay within their process that individuals have lost their energy. They just come to work like machines needing to get things done.
The leader needs to lead a conversation about
- What is our mood as a team now? Name it
- Understand our personal assessments about why the mood
- Make a commitment to address the underlying reasons
- Make a decision to hold a mood of ambition, openness and curiosity with each other.
- Start valuing pride, graciousness and celebration as a mood
- Do check ins on mood when we start and end important meetings
Red Flag 5. Performance: This is about committing to coordinate action with each other for the sake of the shared goal you have. When this is in breakdown we see
- In spite of completion of work deliverables, the teams see no value or satisfaction created for clients.
- We have lost touch with the ‘why’ of what we are doing and at times the ‘why’ of the client too
- Deliverables aren’t planned well, and exaggeration or undermining of timelines happen.
- Too many missing conversations between smaller coordinating teams.
I see this a lot in project management teams. Managers who can only function with exaggerated timelines as they fear to offer realistic one’s to their teams. They complain of team lethargy, lack of focus on deliverables and role holders focus on dependencies on other leads. All in all coordination is poor.
The real conversation needed is
- Revisiting ‘for the sake of what’ we are a team
- Revealing missing conversations between role holders and having those conversations with openness
- Reassessing our teams functional competence and calibrating our plans and commitments to others
These are by no means easy conversations. Teams that go boldly and vulnerably into this arena reap great benefits and I invite you as a leader to reflect on these 4 conversations for the sake of your team’s performance.
Infact such an assignment often starts with the leader needing to create a plan with me so he addresses each of his reportees separately and together. I often work with the leader in advance so they are in the right mood and posture for these conversations.
When the group meets, we take time to build trust and establish the ‘Why’. There is often no way to speeden up these conversations. Sometimes I facilitate a series of exercises and activities including somatic movement related work so teams can begin these conversations. The results are rich. We humans are made for connection. When this happens it can be deeply fulfilling and meaningful. It is a bit like traditional pickle though- it cannot be cooked! It is best made the slow and consistent way.