The CEO of a retail chain wanted his leadership team to learn how to have tough business conversations. Too many issues were being buried, he said. Team members needed to bring their issues to the table and learn how to resolve them. He asked me to design a three-hour team-building workshop. I began the workshop by asking the team to develop a set of operating principles.
Here’s what they came up with:
- Our first responsibility is to the success of the entire organization, not to our own departments.
- We are responsible for helping one another achieve important organizational goals. That is how we can be most effective as a team.
- As team members, we need to view each other as supports, not threats.
- As team members, we have a right to hear first from each other about issues that affect us, not second-hand or via the “grapevine.”
- Since we have a responsibility to help each other, we must bring tough issues to the table and discuss them with each other.
- When discussing difficult topics, we need to tackle the issue, not each other.
- We have a responsibility to ask questions first before we reach conclusions.
After they developed these principles, I introduced them to the GROW model of productive conversation (first described by John Whitmore in his book “Coaching for Performance” ). In a nutshell, the GROW model says that productive conversations follow this sequence: first, we need to understand the Goal (both of the current discussion and the long-range goal), then the current Reality, then our Options, and finally what we Will do next and when.
Once the team understood the model, I asked them to practice it on two current, tough issues. The CTO immediately raised an issue that no one was aware of – but that affected the entire organization. Off they went! Then the CFO raised a second issue dealing with financial statements. Again, the discussion was electrifying. In each case the team followed the GROW model.
After experiencing these two discussions, the team added three more operating principles:
- Our meetings must have an agenda and a facilitator.
- We keep a record of our action items and hold each other accountable.
- No interruptions – we honor this work as our highest priority.
Afterwards, people raved about the quality of the teamwork. As one person said: “There are a lot of conversations we need to have now!”
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