Tammy slipped-in the conference room as the General Manager was about to close the door.
“Another boring meeting,” she thought, “we sit at the table together, but rarely deal with the real issues. What a waste. I’ve got too much to do.”
The agenda looked about the same with only the date changed. Tammy hoped for a different level of conversation.
The department heads completed their routine reports. Then the “problem” was re-introduced: declining customer satisfaction ratings. “Last week, I asked you to think about how to improve our customer satisfaction numbers,” Debbie began. “Tell me what you think is going on. How will you fix this?”
“I’m not sure what’s driving the decline,” John, the veteran sales manager waded in, “but my team hopes to start making follow-up phone calls to each new client.”
As if to rescue John, Rebecca chimed in, “Accounting is looking at ways to personalize the invoice … perhaps a hand-written thank you. Once we get caught up with the software upgrade…” her voice trailed off as she looked at her team.
Tammy knew this song and dance. Give the GM something, anything except the truth or actionable steps. She knew not to expect open dialog because a lack of trust blocked debate around the real issues.
No trust, no conflict, no debate
Being comfortable while engaging in open, passionate debate about the issues and decisions is vital to a high functioning team. But this is only available to teams willing to build trust, the foundation on which self-managed teams perform. Trust happens when a team is transparent and honest, at the table.
What if there isn’t debate around issues and decisions? Teams that fear such healthy conflict …
- Have boring, predictable, unproductive meetings
- Create a workplace where most ideas are only discussed around the “water cooler”
- Accept personal attacks as normal
- Avoid uncomfortable topics critical to team success
- Fail to hear from all team members
- Waste time and energy with posturing
What happens when a team fails to listen to each other? When someone won’t reconsider his or her point of view? Being distracted by trying to figure out how to defend their territory or avoid being wrong limits progress. Venting instead of effective communication is the norm.
So, how well does your team debate the real issues?
Uncomfortable, but the path to performance
As a team builds trust it can move forward with effective communication about the issues, it’s not personal, really.
When a team is willing to put the time and effort in, consider what happens. A team that engages in conflict…
- Enjoys productive meetings
- Gives voice to the ideas of all team members
- Solves real problems … quickly
- Minimizes office politics and posing
- Deals with critical topics to insure success
Even on the best teams, conflict is uncomfortable. It takes mindfulness and self-awareness to avoid taking open debate personally. Since we’re talking about changing behavior it will require desire, discipline, and determination before the breakthrough happens.
Back in the conference room
It was Brad, the production manager, who summoned his courage to change the conversation when he said, “I’m sorry, but it seems to me we are not addressing the real problem.” Choosing his words carefully he asked, “What is causing the decline in customer satisfaction? “Where are we dropping the ball? And, how will we address this challenge…?”
Tammy was ecstatic. For the first time she had hope for some real progress and she spoke up, “Thank you for asking, Brad. One area of concern involves how long the customer has to wait for a return call. What else do we know?”
When your team commits to effective communication you can engage in open, constructive debate of ideas. This must be intentional.
Start by being mindful of the current realities of your team’s behaviors. Yes, how you show up in those conversations. Create space for your team to think by using open-ended questions. Speak up.
How often do you “vent” after a meeting … what happened? Why did you not speak up? How will you address that with your team?
Sure it will take work. But your vulnerability will build trust within your team. Master conflict, and its appearance will be replaced by more collaboration, teamwork, and team success. How fun will that be?
Here’s to your next level,
PS: The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ is a result of the partnership between Wiley Workplace Learning Solutions and best-selling author Patrick Lencioni. The assessment is based on his best-selling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and powered by Everything DiSC Workplace. Next Level Executive Coaching, LLC is an independent, Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team Authorized Partner.
Click to review a Five Behaviors Sample Report.
Image by Joseph Gilbert on Flickr