10 questions managers should ask when their teams won't listen

10 Questions Managers Should Ask When Their Team Won’t Listen

One of the most challenging management experiences you’ll encounter is when it feels like your team won’t listen.

  • You share your vision of the future, what the team’s capable of achieving…and are met with shrugs and silent stares.
  • You share a new process to improve results…and everyone keeps on doing what they’ve always done.
  • You make recommendations grounded in real data…and they are ignored.

Leadership Opportunities

These times when it feels like your team won’t listen are great opportunities to build your influence. You might be tempted to turn to fear, power, and a raised voice to get things done, but I invite you to pause and look at what’s happening before you do.

When you learn from these moments your effectiveness will soar, but if you allow yourself to get so frustrated that you turn to fear or power to get things done, you lose credibility and trust.

Here are 10 questions to ask when you feel like your team won’t listen:

1) What do you want?

Whenever you have leadership challenges, the first thing to examine is your own desire.

There’s a big difference between wanting what’s best for the team and wanting what’s best for you. So what is it you really want?

If the answer is compliance “When I say jump, they better ask ‘how high?’ on the way up” – then you’re never going to have a team that truly listens. They will do things out of fear when they must and ignore you when they can.

However, if what you want for the team to achieve great results together…then keep reading.

2) Are you speaking their language?

Do the actual words you use mean the same thing to your team that they mean to you? Are you sharing numbers and facts when stories and demonstrations are needed, or do your stories need more data and explanation?

3) Have you listened?

When you don’t hear what people tell you, they naturally think you don’t care, they lose heart, and they’ll stop caring.

Not sure if your team is being heard? Ask a few team members to share with you: “Is there anything you’ve been trying to tell me that I’m just not hearing?”

Be quiet and listen. Thank them for sharing…and respond in time, even if it’s to explain constraints or why you’re taking a different direction. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to hear.

4) Are you credible?

If your people can say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” and they have evidence to back up their conclusion, well, expect to be ignored.

You build your credibility. You can’t demand it. Can people trust you? Can they rely on you? Take a moment and seriously consider the answer to these questions. If you were on your own team, would you trust you, based only on what you see and experience?

5) Do you know what matters to your people?

If the values you’re promoting conflict with your team’s values, you’ll have trouble being heard. I worked with a CEO who was disappointed that her employees were leaving work when they were scheduled to leave. She wanted people who valued going the extra distance to get things done. Her employees loved their work, but they also valued their family and friends and considered it nearly immoral to sacrifice family relationships for work.

6) Are you ordering people or inviting them?

Look at both the literal words you’re using as well as the attitude behind them.

Do your words and attitude communicate dignity and equal worth? Or do your words and attitude suggest that you’re better than everyone else and they should just do what they’re told?

7) Have you explained why?

Your team’s lack of response may be because they don’t understand the consequences. Why is this important? How does it make a difference to other people? To the bottom line? Even military briefings include the reasons and objectives behind the orders.

8) Did you check for understanding?

When you share a task and ask “Are there any questions?” you will likely be met with silence.

Don’t assume that silence means they get it. Silence could mean confusion, embarrassment, or that they think they understand.

Rather, ask your team something like: “Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. What are the three things we’re doing coming out of this meeting? Why does this matter? When will these be finished? Make sure they received what you thought you communicated.

9) Have you said it often enough?

I have coached many frustrated leaders who complain that their team is insubordinate or unresponsive.

So then I ask “When was the last time you shared this task or explained what was supposed to happen?”

Some of the answers I’ve heard include:

  • “At that off-site year before last…”
  • “We were in the hallway six months ago…”
  • “At the company meeting last January…”

If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated.

As hard as it may be for your ego to accept, your team members have other lives. They have constant challenges confronting them every day.

It’s unrealistic to believe that something you said one time, last year, is on everyone’s mind. If it’s important, be the drummer. Keep the beat and consistently communicate the MITs (Most Important Things.)

10) Have you said it in different ways?

People receive information differently. I’m a reader first, audio second, and video third. But many other people get much more from video or other visuals.

As you reinforce the MITs, use different communication techniques.

We recommend 6×3 communication. The idea is to repeat critical information at least six times through three or more channels. For example, you might use a staff meeting, a video, and one-on-one meetings for your three different channels.

Your Turn

When it feels like your team won’t listen, it is easy to get frustrated and give in to the temptation to yell louder. But effective leaders know that when it seems no one’s listening, there are likely other issues that need to be resolved.

If you feel like your team won’t listen, ask yourself these ten questions…and listen to your answers.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure you’ve been heard when communicating with your team?

 

How to Ensure Your Team Gets It

It had been a long night…and morning…and afternoon at the airport.

The kind where cancellations and delays compound into a complex verb of frustration that includes four letters. The kind where you start to notice the characters around you and make up their stories.

I had pegged the guy next to me for a Baptist preacher. Among other signs, it was HOW he earnestly offered to watch my stuff as I went to the bathroom, “Ma’am I’ve been watching ladies purses for decades. I watch my wife’s purse. I watch my girl’s purses. I watch my wife’s friend’s friends purses. So whatever you need. I’m your purse watching man.”

And I trusted him.

He was on the phone when I came back from the bathroom. He silently nodded and grinned toward my big red purse which also serves as a computer bag, dongle carrier, journal holder, with nooks and crannies for light snacks and kombucha.

Nope, definitely not Baptist preacher–bankruptcy lawyer. Now I’m intrigued and can’t help but overhear his conversation occurring in such a beautiful Southern drawl it would have been fun to hear, even if I couldn’t understand the words.

Now my wife says I hear okay, but I doooon’t listen tooooo gooood. Let me repeat back what I’m hearing you say you want to do.”  

Silence as the caller responds. Then…

“You see sir, my wife is right. That is just NOT one of the options. Let me be clear. You CAAAAN’T do THAAAT. How about this? Let me share with you your three options again.”

Gives three options. Then…

“You sleep on it.  Call your Momma or talk to your wife…and then we’ll talk again tomorrow.”

I’m beside myself. This is the most remarkable Winning Well check for understanding I’ve ever heard. Full-on confident humility.

“Sir, Thank so much for watching my bag, and indeed you are a remarkable purse watcher. AND I couldn’t help but to overhear…What you did there was brilliant.

You see I wrote this book… and my co-author (now fiance, but that’s another story) and I had this remarkable disagreement about whether the ‘check for understanding’ should be included. I thought it was too simple. He swore it was a vital concept. As we’ve been doing workshops, guess what’s one of the top 10 take-aways?

The funny part is, the higher the managers  are in the organization, the more they love it.

It’s so easy.  

‘Do a simple check to understand…are they picking up what you’re putting down?’

Instead of  ‘Any questions?’ or ‘Are you with me?’ You ask… ‘Okay, so I just want to check to ensure we’re all on the same page…’ and then get them to repeat back. ‘What are we going to do first? And then? By when?’ “

He shared, “Karin, I’ve been doing this for years. When people are going through bankruptcy they hear what they want to–not necessary what’s true. I give them a way to hear it again.”

Amen.

There’s real power in hearing what your team hears.

Do You Hear Them Now? 11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

I once sat in an executive meeting where the SVP explained that Bob, a junior level executive who reported to her had “gotten away” with challenging her boss, the COO’s, ideas. She shared, “When Bob started to challenge him, I was really afraid for his career, but Joe (the COO) actually seemed okay with it.” She laughed as she said how lucky he was that he wasn’t fired, and how other people hadn’t faired so well in the past. Everyone else laughed along uncomfortably. Bob didn’t smile.

I’m still wondering exactly why she shared that story. I think it was an attempt to portray her boss as more reasonable than his reputation allowed. But quite frankly, this one-off story reinforced that an executive really listening to someone a few levels below was not the norm.

We all had a feeling that Bob had been sitting in the “ready now” box of the performance potential succession planning forever. He was a confident and humble rock star and we all knew it. His tenacity was highly valued with his immediate boss and amongst his peers, but something was holding him back.

Maybe his willingness to speak up was part of the issue. I’m pretty sure everyone in the room left being just a little more cautious of what they said.

If you’re keeping score, that’s not a sign of a listening culture.

11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

My regular readers may have noticed I’m on a bit of a listening culture theme. In addition to how imporant listening is, there’s a pragmatic reason for the deep dive.

After a meeting planner read my post, What Happens When We Really Listen, she invited me to come work with 15 CEOs/CFOs of large manufacturing companies to talk about how to create a listening culture. I’m calling it, Do You Hear Them Now: How to Build a Listening Culture.  I’m headed out to conference this week, so I’m inviting you to continue to steep in, and weigh in on, what a listening culture looks and feels like. Ideas:

Sign #1: Imagination abounds: People at all levels are thinking about the business and sharing ideas.

Sign #2: Ideas trump titles: A great idea is a great idea, regardless of who thought of it.

Sign #3: Customer feedback is encouraged, not gamed: Employees at all levels are really listening to what customers are saying, not encouraging them to say what they to hear to improve their scorecard.

Sign #4: Feedback creates change: Feedback is taken seriously, and often acted upon.

Sign #5: Everyone is asking good questions: And getting real answers.

Sign #6: No one freaks out when an exec shows up unexpectedly: MBWA is just that (management by walking around), not OCHTC (oh crap here they come).

Sign #7: Meetings are conversations, not readouts: Meetings are used to make decisions and build relationships.

Sign #8: No one is shocked by the employee engagement survey results: Because they’ve been listening, they know what’s working and are already working on the trouble spots.

Sign #9: Hourly workers have regularly planned time to meet and share ideas about improving the business: Time “off-line” improves the business.

Sign #10: Employees feel an obligation to speak up when something feels stupid: Because they know they’ll be heard, they feel and obligation to share.

Sign #11: Personal issues are treated with compassion: Real listening happens when people open their hearts, set aside their biases, and care.

On a related note: 5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings continues to be on of my most read posts. If you missed that one, and are working on creating a listening culture, you might find it useful.

7 Ways to Create a Listening Culture

If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly make every employee in your organization proficient in one behavior what would that be? Critical thinking? Customer-orientation? Sales?

No matter which behavior I consider, I’m hard pressed to come up with one that would be more impactful with just a bit more listening.

Listening transforms relationships.

Listening makes customers feel valued.

Listening gets to root cause.

Listening attracts business.

Yet, in most organizations I work with, people talk a heck more than they listen. Most of us can’t claim that we consistently listen well.

So how do you set out to build a culture of effective listening? Start with these 7 steps.

1. Tell the Truth

Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS. If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say. A culture of real listening can only happen when people can count on one another for candor. Encourage transparency and truth telling, starting at the very top.

2. Be Interesting

Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories  Ditch the 35 page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.

3. Show Up Like an Anthropologist

Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove, they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and make meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more executives approached their field visits with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.

4. Be Interested

To encourage deeper listening, be a great listener. Approach conversations with empathy and compassion. Let your words, body language and actions show that you’re very interested in who they are and what they’re saying.

5. Reward Transparency

If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Genie feedback, where the poop is disguised in so much packaging you can’t even smell it. Thank people for bringing you the truth. Surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Promote those willing to speak up.

6. Encourage Field Trips

One of the best ways to build a listening culture is to have encourage cross-departmental visits. Give your teams permission to visit their counterparts upstream or downstream in the process. Let them share their challenges, pressures and successes.

7. Get Social

Social media provides amazing opportunities to listen to customers. A good social care strategy listen’s beyond the # and the @. Social platforms can be great for internal listening as well. One of my clients recently implemented Yammer and is delighted by the informal conversations forming and how they can trend what’s most important on people’s minds.

3 Listening Lessons We Can All Use From Political Leadership

A Guest Post from Rose Fass, CEO at Fass Forward.

Many leaders talk a good game. Some have even managed to talk their way to the top. But ironically, there’s one leadership quality that often gets the silent treatment. It’s listening to how the message was received.

Politicians are masters of message discipline. They speak in sound bites, which gives repeatable expression to their ideas. Next, they listen to focus groups, surveys, polls, and constituents to see how their message landed with their audience.

Did it create a buzz? Did it move people to action? Did it win them votes? Conveying a message isn’t enough. Leaders need to know how it was perceived and if it was effective in winning over their people. Say what you will about the world of politics, there are at least a few things leadership communicators could learn from political leadership.

The power of real leadership starts with the conversation. You have them every day…and those conversations have a powerful impact on your people and how your company does business…every day. If listening isn’t treated as a critical piece of message discipline, it certainly adds additional meaning to the expression, “He’s all talk.”

Listening Polls

Let’s assume that you lead by carefully crafting concise messages and conveying them with clarity. Then, you move on to the next piece of business. On the other hand, if you take the time to really listen, you’ll get two earfuls of terrific, actionable information. Suddenly, you can hear what your people have been trying to tell you all along. You’ll also have a better grasp of everything from what customers are saying to what’s frustrating your followers.

Listening more carefully to employees and customers can help close those gaps that open up unexpectedly at the intersection of strategy and execution.

Listen to yourself, too. Many leaders talk to themselves. Surprisingly, not enough listen to themselves. Successful leaders need for their ideas, visions, strategies and messages to come across clearly. Listen to what you’re saying. Is it being interpreted as intended? Is everyone on the same page? Are there breakdowns in execution? It all comes down to how your message lands. So be sure to spend more time in the land of listening.

What Gets Heard Equals What Gets Done

Listening is a two-way street. They want you to listen to them. You want them to listen to you. So listen up to these message discipline leadership tactics to ensure that what you say is what gets heard so what you envision is what gets done.

Listen To What You Say

Start with your message. Craft it carefully. Simplify it. Edit it until only the essence has been captured. Distill it down so it only delivers details that frame a solid main idea.

Next, Ask Yourself:

  • Are my expectations presented clearly or have I opened the door to confusion?
  • Will my people know how to pick up where my message left off?
  • Can our cast of corporate characters all see the roles they’re playing in the overall picture?

Listen To What Gets Heard

Hear your people. Ask for feedback. Now, get ready to:

  • Absorb the feedback and take decisive action.
  • Listen to what people are telling you with sensitivity.
  • Address all critical concerns and unmet needs.

Listen to What Gets Done

You delivered your message. You know it was heard. You now want action. Keep listening and continue to:

  • Hold yourself and your people accountable.
  • Monitor results and look for marks that have been missed.
  • Analyze whether your message is aligned with your strategy, company direction and what people are doing.

Three Points to Remember

  1. Message discipline drives operational discipline.
  2. Strategy is validated by execution of the message.
  3. Leaders who don’t listen are missing a lot.

7 Reasons You Won't Hear The Truth

Your team decides what you can handle. Like parents protecting young children, they safeguard you and themselves. They anticipate tantrums, and work around them. They’ll even throw in a few things “they’re worried about,” to make you feel better.

Don’t blame them. You’ve taught them well. Your well-intended intensity sends them to the nearest diaper genie to package their story. To get the real deal, avoid these common traps.

How To Ensure You Won’t Hear The Truth

  1. Rush To Fix It – They’ve got this. Your “fix” may aggravate the situation. Escalating may damage peer relationships they’ve been working hard to develop. Instead ask how you can best help.
  2. Model It – Your team watches how you manage your boss. Watch what filtering you model. They’re picking up these skills from you. Show them how you give your boss bad news.
  3. Freak Out – Breathe. Nothing will shut them down more than high-emotions.
  4. Use It Against Them – They don’t want their mistakes to haunt them. If you don’t know, you can’t “ding” them. Encourage them to come to you with problems and solutions. Commend them for their honesty.
  5. Assign More Work – They’re already overwhelmed working the issue. Roll-up your sleeves to brainstorm solutions, but don’t just start assigning to-dos.
  6. Bring In The experts – Sure suggest folks who can help, but resist the urge to bring in a superhero to take over.
  7. Require More Updates – Now you’re nervous. It’s natural to want more frequent updates. If you need more info, make it easy. The team doesn’t have time to build more Powerpoints to update you. They’ve got work to do.

How To Encourage The Truth

  1. T – Time: Be sensitive to scar tissue from previous bosses. Raise the issue one person at a time. Ask how you’re doing and what it will take to nurture their trust.
  2. R – Receive well: Really listen to what they’re saying. Gently probe for more information. Ask follow-up questions, including how you can best help.
  3. U – Understand: Reiterate what you’ve heard. Use empathy statements, “Wow, that must be really frustrating”.
  4. T – Take it offline: Casually talk to team members one-on-one. Ask what worries them most, and how you can help. Ask what they think you should be worried about.
  5. H – Honest: Calmly articulate any concerns. Being real with them, will encourage them to be real with you.

7 Reasons You Won’t Hear The Truth

Your team decides what you can handle. Like parents protecting young children, they safeguard you and themselves. They anticipate tantrums, and work around them. They’ll even throw in a few things “they’re worried about,” to make you feel better.

Don’t blame them. You’ve taught them well. Your well-intended intensity sends them to the nearest diaper genie to package their story. To get the real deal, avoid these common traps.

How To Ensure You Won’t Hear The Truth

  1. Rush To Fix It – They’ve got this. Your “fix” may aggravate the situation. Escalating may damage peer relationships they’ve been working hard to develop. Instead ask how you can best help.
  2. Model It – Your team watches how you manage your boss. Watch what filtering you model. They’re picking up these skills from you. Show them how you give your boss bad news.
  3. Freak Out – Breathe. Nothing will shut them down more than high-emotions.
  4. Use It Against Them – They don’t want their mistakes to haunt them. If you don’t know, you can’t “ding” them. Encourage them to come to you with problems and solutions. Commend them for their honesty.
  5. Assign More Work – They’re already overwhelmed working the issue. Roll-up your sleeves to brainstorm solutions, but don’t just start assigning to-dos.
  6. Bring In The experts – Sure suggest folks who can help, but resist the urge to bring in a superhero to take over.
  7. Require More Updates – Now you’re nervous. It’s natural to want more frequent updates. If you need more info, make it easy. The team doesn’t have time to build more Powerpoints to update you. They’ve got work to do.

How To Encourage The Truth

  1. T – Time: Be sensitive to scar tissue from previous bosses. Raise the issue one person at a time. Ask how you’re doing and what it will take to nurture their trust.
  2. R – Receive well: Really listen to what they’re saying. Gently probe for more information. Ask follow-up questions, including how you can best help.
  3. U – Understand: Reiterate what you’ve heard. Use empathy statements, “Wow, that must be really frustrating”.
  4. T – Take it offline: Casually talk to team members one-on-one. Ask what worries them most, and how you can help. Ask what they think you should be worried about.
  5. H – Honest: Calmly articulate any concerns. Being real with them, will encourage them to be real with you.

Do They Hear What You Hear?

He wants to be promoted, but something’s missing. You feel it, your boss feels it, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. He’s completed all the action plans, and has done everything you’ve asked. Look more deeply, does he hear what you hear?

“Happy is the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The leap to the next level requires a keen sense of hearing. It’s an acquired skill, hard to explain in your development program. HR knows it too, but it’s unlikely they’d let you include it in the job description.

What They Must Hear

The Look in Their Eyes – Strong leaders commit to the moment. They can’t be searching for words or remembering the talk track. And they REALLY can’t get stuck on the script. Teach your growing leaders to watch the room and the look in their eyes. If the crew’s not tracking, it’s time to regroup. Teach them to search deeper. Help them change their approach ( not their values). Look for alternative doors to open similar possibilities.

Political Undertones – Great hearing starts long before the talking begins. Assign hearing homework. Help them assess the landscape and positions, BEFORE they plan their presentation.

Bigger Context – It’s hard to speak like an executive when you don’t have a clue. Give them enough insights to present an integrated view.

Meaning in Data – Teach interpretation not regurgitation. Leaders must pull meaning and implications for results. If there’s a gap, or a trend be sure they can explain it. Not tap dancing… thoughtful analysis and understanding. Help them show up as the expert.

The Unsaid – Every now and then your growing leader will step into an unexpected landmine. If the entire room reacts like they’re in a Harry Potter movie, where someone just named “the one who can’t be named.” Teach them to stop, take it off-line, and understand more before continuing.

Pause for Effectiveness: 9 Powerful Times to Pause

Your team needs you, you respond. They have questions, you have answers. The phone rings, you pick it up. Great leadership? A pause can be more powerful. Speakers pause for effect; Great leaders pause for effectiveness.

A powerful pause is a wildly under utilized leadership tool. Awkward silence creates opportunity. I’ve never regretted a pause. I’ve got buckets-full of “I wish I had paused” moments. When in doubt, pause more often.

9 Powerful Pauses

A pause gives you both time to think. Pauses calm emotions. Pregnant pauses give birth to vibrant ideas. 7 situations where pausing is most powerful. Let’s pass the pause, what would you add?

  1. Compliments – You’ve been given a tremendous compliment. Pause and take it in. Look them back in the eye, with a sincere thank you. Pause amplifies appreciation.
  2. Sad News – Sad or disappointing news is often shocking. It’s difficult to know what to say. Give your heart time to adjust. Connect–then speak.
  3. Anger (yours) – Sometimes a grown-up “time-out” is the best remedy. Step back. Think more. If you really want to say “it,” there will be time. You will likely find better words after a breather.
  4. Anger (theirs) – They’re spitting teeth. Accusations. Exaggerated facts. Misrepresented viewpoints. You’re tempted to respond immediately. You must clear it up. They interrupt, you talk faster, or louder. They’ll hear you more clearly after a good pause. If you stop talking so will they. They may even breathe in the process.
  5. Ideas (yours) – If your idea’s that great, it will still be there after others have had a chance to talk. In fact, it will be even better if you use it to build on what others have to say. Let others talk first, then share.
  6. 6. Ideas (theirs) – Pause. Let them keep going. Let them build on their thinking. Nod, smile, encourage. Try not saying a word, until they get it all out.
  7. No Ideas – It’s amazing how often people will talk until they have something to say. If you don’t know, go slow. Quiet creates contribution.
  8. Silence – Now it’s even more tempting to fill the space. No one else is talking, and you’re the leader. Best for you to set the stage? Maybe. Or what if you said, “Yikes, this one’s tough. let’s all take a minute to consider the options.”
  9. Ring-a-ling – Most of the time when the phone rings or the text beeps in, we answer right away. Sometimes necessary. Sometimes not. Consider a pause to stay in the moment. Then call back with complete attention.
  10. What would you add?

Distracted Driving: Lead with Care

You’re distracted. Multi-tasking. Getting work done. You’re trying hard to give everyone the attention they need. It’s hard. If you’re like me, being spread too thin leads to distracted focus.

Distraction speaks louder than words.

Today’s post, Distraction Speaks Louder than Words,  comes via the Lead Change Group, a terrific community of leadership thinkers. My inspiration for this topic came from comments on my Effective Listening: Necessary But Not Sufficient post.

Distracted Driving at Work

What Your Team Hears When You Can’t Hear Them…

  • You are not that important to me
  • Others matter more
  • Your project is not my priority
  • Your project is not important
  • I don’t respect your opinion
  • I don’t really care about you
  • I’m not invested in your success read more here

Happy Memorial Day From Let’s Grow Leaders. Lead well. Drive safely.

Effective Listening: Necessary, But Not Sufficient

Why aren’t we better at listening? Is it really skills or something deeper?

I’ve been intrigued by a 6 month, Leadership LinkedIn Discussion asking leaders to give “one piece of advice” for new leaders. With over 1300 comments, the discussion was skewed heavily toward one topic: effective listening. How leaders “listen” trumped all other discussion threads including transparency, honesty, and knowing yourself.

Julian Treasure’s Ted Talk,  5 Ways to Listen Better, attracted 1.5M views. Clearly, we know that bad listening is dangerous, or we wouldn’t be so interested.

Bad listening…

  • is contagious
  • discourages future communication
  • disengages
  • destroys trust
  • erodes confidence
  • ?

Listening deteriorates when we are

  • rushed
  • preoccupied
  • distracted
  • multitasking
  • disinterested
  • unskilled
  • intimidating
  • already know the answer
  • don’t really want input
  • ?

We know how to listen

  • Avoid multi-tasking
  • Create a quiet time, free from distractions
  • Connect
  • Empathize
  • Summarize
  • Ask Questions
  • ?

 Perhaps the problem is larger than listening

What we label as skills problems, may be deeper. Listen for what you choose to hear.

Look in the mirror for signs of lost

  • Respect
  • Empowerment
  • Interest
  • Passion
  • Purpose
  • ?

Open-Space Leadership: When Less is More

Sometimes leadership is just about creating an open-space and getting out-of-the-way.

I love using Open-Space Technology with a large group to generate ideas. It’s an amazing, high-energy, low-cost way to hold a powerful meeting. Participants essentially create their own agenda and self-organize into groups to discuss topics that matter to them. Although it’s useful to have a trained facilitator help with the effort, I have found it works just fine with the leader serving both as host and organizer.

“We have discovered, through countless pointed lessons, that there is precisely one way to mess up an Open-Space and only one way. And that is to think that you are in charge of what happens, or worse yet, to act that way. Truthfully, the facilitator has little if anything of a substantive nature to contribute. No fixes, no interventions or at least not of an obvious sort. For a brief time at the beginning, the facilitator holds center stage (literally), and then it is essential to get out-of-the-way.”
~ Harrison Owen, Founder of Open-Space Technology

Open Space in Action: One Example

Last week, I held an Open-Space Meeting with over 100 participants discussing the topic: How Can We Be More Influential Leaders?

We started in a big circle, set up the process and guiding principles and we were off (see resource links in the post for more how-tos). WIthin 15 minutes we had generated 18 fascinating topics to be discussed throughout the next 3 hours in concurrent sessions. Team members stepped up to own and facilitate topics. Participants could move freely from session to session. The conversation was robust. We then ended back in the circle where each participant-turned facilitator shared highlights from the conversation and next steps.

The topics were an interesting mix of leadership development, business-processes, how-tos, and best practice sharing. Some topics were inspired by challenges, others by success. Some chose to teach and share, while others chose to facilitate through lots of questions. We ended with many ideas and actionable next steps.

The spirit and the energy in the room was palpable. This was a group inspired to change things.

Why it Worked

I asked the team why it worked. Here’s some of the thinking:

  • I had a chance to think about the topic I would share in advance, and I came prepared with some ideas on how to facilitate the discussion
  • I chose a topic that I was passionate about it was cool to see how many others shared that same interest
  • We got to talk about exactly what we needed to, with the people we needed to
  • It was intriguing to see where the interest was which topics attracted the biggest following.
  • Now we know what matters most to our organization for future work
  • It was cool to see how many people in our remote group are all sharing the same experiences.
  • I found kindred spirits
  • I was heard
  • Some fantastic ideas were shared that I can take back and use immediately
  • Even though only a few people showed up to my session, we got started on some important work and I have already set up a follow-up conference call to build on our actions

A Leader’s Perspective

Our topic of “Influence” lent itself well to this technique. By stepping back as the leader and providing space for the conversation to emerge, I could model some of the most important parts of influence– listening and understanding. The team became the teachers. The spirit of this exercise can be translated in other ways as they go back to their daily work and provide influence in those environments.

We also set this up in advance as an important developmental opportunity for the team. Open-space sessions are a gentle and friendly way to practice facilitation and public speaking. I was delighted with the preparation and delivery of the team.

I was inspired by the opportunity to travel freely from session to session as a participant. It’s great to experience such inspired thought leadership from people at all levels and roles within the organization. If I had built the agenda myself, I would have overlooked some of the most popular topics.