I usually describe my last active duty assignment this way: if you think of an AF base like a small city, I was the city manager, not the mayor…anther Colonel had that responsibility, but the city manager. The organization I led included the first responders (fire fighters and cops), and was responsible for maintaining the building and communications infrastructure, AND maintaining personnel records for all the base employees, military and civilian, among other disparate responsibilities. Now you might think that the cops had absolutely nothing to do with the folks that ran the personnel piece (and you might be right), but during our twice weekly meetings, I tried to create a space where seemingly disconnected conversations might take place, or at the very least, the combined command experience of seven or eight officers might come to bear to solve a problem.
And I absolutely discouraged The Meeting After The Meeting (MATM)! You know the meeting I mean! The MATM is the meeting that takes place AFTER the official meeting is over, the one where the objections that ought to have been made in the meeting are made, where the observations that should have been shared IN THE MEETING are shared, where the comments that could have sparked necessary conflict OR collaboration during the meeting happen instead.
The Meeting After the Meeting is where the comments that could have sparked collaboration happen. Tweet this now!
The MATM is not to be confused with the legit ad hoc meeting to explore a topic that surface during THE MEETING! No, I’m talking about the gripe session, the b—- session where hurt feelings find allies, bruised egos blister and frustrations fester.
The Meeting After the Meeting is often a hotbed where bruised egos blister and frustrations fester. Tweet this now!
There are a whole lotta excuses individual team members make when they choose not to share in a forum where all stakeholders can engage in the discussion, but they usually fall into a few categories:
The team member perceives others have more expertise on the topic being discussed.
Sometimes team members defer to others because they have more experience in an area. On my team, I usually stay out of the discussions on product pricing, except to ask if we are competitively priced with similar offers.
But often the expertise isn’t real! It may be based on anecdotes or just the assurance of a self-assured person convinced of his “facts”. I once had four separate discussions with a collegue about the date of a presentation that could have been resolved with a quick glimpse at a CALENDER. It was exhausting and I resolved we would just be wrong as a team before I engaged in another conversation on the topic!
The last time this team member spoke up, he was shot down!
The beauty of a team is the diverse thoughts, perspectives and experience each team member brings to the collective. EVERY member of a team has a bit of the truth about a situation based on his experience or her expertise. So my reality may not be your reality, but it can also represent a truth you can’t see, and it deserves respect. A leader who can only hear HIS OWN voice, or the voices of those who sound like him, will eventually only get his voice to hear. And it doesn’t really matter who’s pulling the trigger, if the speaker’s comments were dismissed or disparaged, she might play dead rather than risk being shot down again.
A speaker who is shot down at a meeting, might play dead before risking speaking up again! Tweet this now!
The team member has given up having her input heard or accepted and has stopped offering it.
Have you ever said something in a meeting and the next speaker spoke as if you had said NOTHING? As discouraging as having your comments heard and dismissed or disparaged is NOT having your comments heard at all. We all want to be seen, heard and know our input matters. When that does not happen, we feel diminished as a member of the team.
As discouraging as having your comments heard and dismissed is NOT having your comments heard at all. Tweet this now!
The team member doesn’t trust his team enough to offer his best or believe they will offer their best.
Each member of any team has the responsibility to the team, individually and collectively, to bring their full authentic self to the table.
When members of the team don’t believe in the vision or trust that the team can accomplish it, they might hold back, loose interest, or sabotage the team’s effort to start working on something or somewhere else.
That was what happened in a legal case tried by one of my brilliant University of Alabama classmates. David Long-Daniels recently led a legal team that won a multi-million dollar settlement for a client whose executive team suspiciously jumped ship within a week of each other to join forces with several competitors. The defendants in the case included the executives and the competitors they went to work for; the lawsuit alleged four executives conspired to secure future employment with their competitors, providing them “confidential information, customer lists and business opportunities”.
The defense for the defectors “argued that the company was losing money because it was poorly run.” The plaintiff’s side “countered that the defendants were running the company and that it lost money because they diverted their attention, “customers and acquisition targets” outside the company!
I wonder what would have happened if instead of expressing their frustration in the MATM, the executives had voiced their concerns to the larger organization … if, instead of devising a plan during the MATM to divert their time, talent and treasure (and company resources) outside the organization, they had focused on fully executing the company’s vision…if instead of using the MATM to vent about what THEY deserved individually, they had shown some loyalty and led their team to success .
The leader has primary responsibility for creating the culture where critical communication, collaboration and even conflict can happen. But each team member has a role to MATM-proof her team…do his part to create an environment where the discussions can happen and every team member can participate.
Create a culture where critical communication, collaboration and conflict can happen. Tweet this now!
Create a foundation of trust
Trust is the foundation of any relationship. Whether you’re in a marriage, on a sports team or starting a business with your closest friends, the relationships start with trust. Trust requires us to be vulnerable … to bring our full selves to the table in all of our strength, our knowledge and our experience and risk being judged.
Creating trust means being willing to assume the best about our teammates and believe that they are just as focused on what’s best for the team as we are. Then, when we have questions, trust means being courageous enough to ASK and find out what we need to know. And if we’re the team member being questioned, trusting that the questions are coming from a place of curiosity and a desire to understand so that we can respond accordingly.
Create expectations around communication, specifically at meetings
Enterprises often focus their communication plan around the dissemination of information to external customers. Equally important is how communication will happen internally, especially at meetings. One of my favorite authors, Patrick Lencioni says that organizations often suffer through “meeting stews” where every issue is thrown in to the pot, with no prioritization, no drama and no resolution and suggests more types of meetings, with specific purposes.
Avoid the “meeting stew” by having different types of meetings with different purposes. Tweet this now!
Lencioni’s book, Death by Meeting identifies four types of meetings that can improve team communication:
- Daily Check In to see what’s going on with each member
- Weekly Tactical to address tactical issues of immediate concern
- Monthly or Ad Hoc Strategic which is longer planning session for general discussion or around a specific issue that may have come up
- Quarterly Review to take a holistic, long term look at the enterprise
If you’re the leader, let your team know that during your team meetings:
- Communication is expected. If team members know they aren’t going to be allowed to disappear during a team discussion, they will be encouraged to really listen.
- Communication will be listened to and considered. Let them know NO on-topic point is off limits!
- Questions will be asked. You can’t get to understanding, if you can’t ask questions. Encourage your team to ask challenging questions
Create and embrace conflict!
I’ve talked about conflict before in this space; it’s what happens when people bring their authentic selves to a discussion. Conflict is natural and usually not the issue; UNRESOLVED conflict is the issue!
Many organizations glaze over the conflict, believing erroneously that they can achieve their goals more quickly if everyone just agrees!
Nothing could be further from the truth!
Without the full, sometimes colorful, often uncomfortable exchanges that happen when everyone brings their ideas to the forefront, you’re not going to have buy in, or the commitment to a clear plan of action. Instead of committing and executing, you keep circling your unresolved conflict. When people feel comfortable sharing what they know and are clear about what they are doing, not only can they commit, they can sell the vision and hold themselves and their teammates accountable to executing a plan.
If you’re the leader, look for the conflict. Ask your team to challenge each other’s positions. Don’t get defensive if you’re challenged. And if you’re not the leader, don’t wait for the leader to question your team members when they are not holding themselves accountable, do it yourself!
Creating the enterprise culture where team members can comfortably (and uncomfortably when necessary) engage takes a team effort and is a critical component of a successful company. But sometimes, despite the leaders efforts, a member or members of the team continue to undermine the efforts of the team to create a shared vision. And then it’s time to create a different culture by removing those members from the team.
Something to think about:
What topics are your team members avoiding at the meeting?
Renita Alexander, Profit Pathway