Recently I participated in a weekly staff meeting among a business unit leader and her seven direct reports. Because she was interested in creating a more team-oriented culture within her unit, I asked the leader to replace her usual meeting schedule with a system of Daily Huddles and Weekly Meetings, as outlined in Verne Harnish’s book, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” (MRH).
At her weekly meeting, the leader followed the MRH Weekly Meeting Agenda by having the team spend several minutes discussing a single, critical issue facing the business unit: a recent change to the company’s employee evaluation system that would result in a lower overall performance score for several quality employees. It was a very animated conversation.
Immediately prior to adjourning the meeting and again following the MRH Weekly Meeting Agenda, the leader asked each of her direct reports to describe how they were feeling at that moment. This was the first time she had asked her team to describe their feelings, and the first few answers were tentative. The third person to respond said, “This is WAY too touchy-feely for me. But I’ll give it a shot. I’m feeling frustrated and disappointed. This company seems to have a world view that the glass is half empty. Everything is viewed negatively, and whenever someone comes forward with a new idea or a positive suggestion, they’re given a hundred reasons why it won’t work or can’t be done or shouldn’t be tried. And now we have the rules of our employee evaluation program changed after we’ve completed the review process. So I’m frustrated, I’m disappointed and I’m angry.”
Wow! Talk about a huge shift in dynamics! The next three people all spoke passionately about having similar feelings, particularly with respect to the employee evaluation issue. All were frustrated, irritated and angry.
To her tremendous credit, the business unit leader listened calmly, without interrupting anyone. Then she remarked, “You know, I’m hearing you loud and clear. You’re frustrated, angry and disappointed. And in many ways I am as well. So what I’m going to say next may come as a surprise to all of you. I’m incredibly optimistic. There is no doubt that our industry and our company will continue to go through profound changes, and it’s not going to be pretty. But I’m absolutely confident that we can get through this together if we work more as a team, in support of one another. To build a team, we need to be able to trust one another. And in order to trust one another, we need to be able to express exactly the kinds of feelings and emotions that you had the courage to express today. This is the first time I’ve ever heard those types of feelings expressed in a meeting, and I have to tell you, it’s refreshing. If we can be honest with one another, we can find ways to overcome virtually any challenge that comes our way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me and with one another.”
The looks on the faces of each participant told the story: they felt validated, relieved, inspired, trusted and positive. Each one left the room with a bounce in their step. The fact that the employee assessment issue had not been “fixed” wasn’t important. What was important was that the leader had taken a significant step toward establishing the foundational value of trust within her team (for more on this, see Pat Lencioini’s book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team“). She had laid the groundwork for her direct reports to work through this challenge AS A TEAM.
This powerful demonstration of leadership was made possible by the unit leader’s openness to trying something new (using the MRH Weekly Meeting Agenda), her commitment to being genuine, and her willingness to risk bringing in a “touchy-feely” element to the conversation.
Trust is built when people are given an environment in which they can feel safe engaging at an emotional level. Consider using this approach in your next meeting. If you are genuine about it, and if you take this approach consistently, you will create an environment of trust, collaboration and results.
For learn more about the Rockefeller Habits and the Four Decisions that every leader must make for business success, please fill out the form on the right or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.