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March 31st, 2010
I know what you might be thinking about your team: it takes one “bad apple to spoil the barrel.” Fact is, though, it’s the stuff “swept under rug” that’s more damaging to team productivity.
I’m talking about loss and how no one wants to talk about it.
All businesses face loss at one time or another. It could be loss of coworkers due to corporate downsizing or restructuring, or loss of a client or bid, even a death of a co-worker. In the years I’ve been working with teams, it’s always surprised me how even the most experienced leaders back away from dealing with a loss. The typical response seems to be, “It’s a private matter. Best to let it run its course.”
In other words, let’s ignore the loss and hope it goes away before anyone notices. But everyone notices—especially when it’s something as major as a restructuring or downsizing.
Not only does a loss distract people from staying focused and on track, it also makes them anxious. Anxious people are very unproductive. They can’t help but worry about what’s under that rug, why no one’s talking about it, if it’s worse than they imagine, and if they’re next.
Fortunately, applying your emotional intelligence can help turn a loss-related crisis into an opportunity to assert leadership and relationship values. It gets down to having the courage to have the tough conversations.
I worked with a team leader recently to support him in doing just that after his company went through a significant restructuring. The news shocked everyone. Worse, it was followed by yet another shock—an increased workload due to the loss of staff.
I recommended the team leader facilitate a “hot-topic check-in.” The hot topic was the actual loss through restructuring; the check-in provided an opportunity for following to happen:
- In a team meeting, the leader acknowledged what had happened and why.
- He then asked each group member to offer personal feedback (thoughts, concerns, plan for today). No dialog was expected; it was simply an opportunity to make a statement, listen, and empathize.
The check-in took 10 to 15 minutes, after which you could feel the tension meter drop to zero. Someone even cracked a joke that got everyone twittering. It was as though the team found its groove again just by opening up.
Amazing how powerful and cost-effective a little communication can be. Here’s the best part—it’s never too late. Can you think of a loss your company has experienced that you might want make a hot topic for a check-in? Give it a try and let me know what happens.
February 12th, 2010
Recently I did a post on the “check-in.” This is a simple applied emotional intelligence technique for leading a meeting that can take team members from distracted to focused in just minutes. The check-in involves having people describe in a couple of minutes what is on their minds before jumping into the meeting’s agenda. One reader tried the check-in and here’s what happened:
I get tired of competing with all the stuff in people’s heads when I’m trying to run a meeting, so I decided to try the check-in. I did my check-in first but when I finished, everyone was staring at me blankly. Finally one person piped up with, “I thought we were discussing the new product specs, not doing a therapy session!” That got some laughs. I haven’t given up with the check-in but would appreciate any thoughts you may have for introducing it in such a way that people don’t get defensive or trivialize what’s going on. By the way, I work with very technical people (engineers).
“Checked Out” makes a great point. Most people are more comfortable dealing with facts, data, intellectual constructs, and linear thinking. They’re not used to opening up in meetings. However, when it comes to improving team results, a little applied emotional intelligence can go a long way. Here are some ideas for making the check-in work for you while asserting your leadership style at the same time:
- Provide a context: Start with the importance of team collaboration, communication, and problem solving to increasing results and fostering decision-making.
- Describe the problem: Few people would deny that distraction is a productivity killer. By describing the check-in as an opportunity “to dump distractions at the door” so you can free your mind to focus, you reframe its value in terms of business goals. You also clarify your expectations for the meeting: total engagement.
- Clarify what is being shared at the check-in: The check-in isn’t for personal sharing per se. It’s for sharing your personal reactions to business concerns that weigh heavily on your mind. This might be a concern related to a high workload, an urgent project, or a stuck-point with a customer or direct report.
- Describe typical results: The check-in not only helps build empathy, but it also helps people see that others are facing as many challenges as they are. Insight into to “what’s going on for the other person” helps build trust and openness, which, in turn, lead to more productive brainstorming and problem solving.
“Checked Out,” thanks for not giving up on the check-in. In my experience, the more “left brain” the team, the more explanation the check-in requires. And permission, too, because most people need to be reminded they do not have to be thinking all the time. Indeed, over-thinking can get in the way. Once they get the power of the check-in, they’ll be doing it without thinking twice. Let me know how it goes.
January 27th, 2010
Good relationships. It’s no secret they’re vital to business success. They’re also the key to turning team meetings into “results generators,” not time wasters. I’ll show you exactly how to do just that using applied emotional intelligence. It all starts with on one simple question.
(Not seeing a video-screencast below? Click here)
But before we get there, let’s look at a typical team meeting. As the team leader, you jump into the agenda to get things rolling. People appear to be listening but in fact, they’re not really engaged. They’re checking their watches, scribbling notes, or lost in what I call the “swirl” of data in their heads. In short, they’re checked out. They sure aren’t thinking about how to get better results.
If it does, try this tip from applied emotional intelligence. Take a moment to ask your team this question: How are you developing relationships? That single question can tell you whether or not you are on track to get the best out of your team.
When I ask that question with teams I’m leading, here’s what I often get: “We’re on email with each other and that creates a lot of relationships.’” Emails create relationships? Hah! I don’t know about you but emails connect people. They’re about exchanging facts and figures not forming relationships.
Another answer I get is, “We have regular meetings”. Regular meetings are good but are you developing relationships there? I don’t think so.
The third answer I usually hear is, “We have regular social events”. Well, social events are also great, but when your company is throwing them and you have to go—well, it’s not the same thing as going to a party with friends. You’ll probably be in for a night of shoptalk. Not exactly the stuff from which relationships arise.
So what kinds of answers say, yes, my team is building effective relationships? First, you’ll hear, “We communicate clearly and that develops relationships.” Another one is, “We give each other regular feedback and hold one another accountable.” Accountability is a sure sign that relationships are in place, because it’s based on trust, engagement, and alignment.
If you’re hearing those comments from people sitting around the table, pat yourself on the back—you’re doing a great job of fostering relationships and highly effective teams.
See how it easy it is to apply the power of emotional intelligence? Try it and let me know what your team members say about how they’re developing relationships. At the very least, it will help them focus on the one thing that can get them out of their heads and onto the same page, where they can work together to get the best results possible.