Foster Productive Dialogue to Reenergize Your Leadership Team

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This is a guest post by Jack McGuinness of Relationship Impact.

As Jack McGuinness stressed in Part 1 of this series, great leadership teams never succeed by accident. In this post he explains how to get your team talking.

In her landmark study on the science of team self-awareness, Amy Edmonson coined the term ‘psychological safety’ to describe “the shared belief that it’s safe to ask one another for help, admit mistakes, and raise tough issues.” She goes on to suggest that “psychological safety is meant to suggest neither a careless sense of permissiveness, nor an unrelenting positive effect but rather a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.”

Most importantly, Edmonson’s research discovered that the highest-performing teams were “the ones with the highest reported errors – teammates were comfortable openly discussing mistakes. On these teams, they weren’t afraid to tell the leader that something had gone wrong.”

Unfortunately, as we see everyday in our work with leadership teams psychological safety is hard to come by. In Relationship Impact parlance we refer to psychological safety as ‘productive dialogue’ or the ability for teams to challenge, debate and discuss their most important issues in a manner that progresses the issues and leaves minimal relational scars. Over the past 9 years we have worked with close to 100 teams and the number one challenge we have seen and continue to see is the inability of leadership teams to engage in productive dialogue.

As an example, last summer we began to work with the leadership team of a trade association and the lack of productive dialogue was palpable. The CEO was serving as a referee and managing conflict among his VPs individually and behind closed doors; staff were visibly uncomfortable talking to colleagues in other departments without sanction from their VPs; and leadership team meetings lacked substance and were often cancelled.

Fostering an environment where productive dialogue can thrive is challenging and requires hard work and commitment on the part of each leadership team member. Below are a few steps that will get the work started:

  1. Start by taking some time to help the team get to know each other at a deeper level. We regularly use Patrick Lencioni’s Personal Histories Exercise, which asks team members to describe struggles they faced earlier on in life. This never fails to provide teams with interesting insights into why colleagues might behave as they do. After the exercise we often hear comments such as ‘wow that explains a lot’ or ‘now I understand why he approaches decisions like that.’
  2. Next, invest time to help team members become aware of how they are ‘showing up’ to each other. We use psychometric instruments such as MBTI, DISC, or SDI to enable individuals to step back and reflect on what they value most and how this influences how they behave. We use these instruments as non-threatening discussion starters where teammates are asked to provide feedback to each other – ‘I appreciate that you are a results oriented person but sometimes I feel like you steamroll your ideas.’
  3. Perhaps most importantly, use the dialogue from steps one and two to help team members make behavioral commitments that will strengthen the effectiveness of the leadership team at the current point in the team’s journey. Team members should make commitments based on the input from their teammates and proactively ask for feedback when they struggle to live up to their commitments.
  4. Finally, team members must promise to ask for and provide feedback. As Tasha Eurich suggests in her book Insight, giving and receiving feedback is not easy – “In a misguided attempt to cling to the comfortable mental image we have of ourselves, it’s tempting to react by getting angry and defensive or trying to run away (either literally or by not listening, shrugging it off, pretending it never happened).” However, without feedback there can be no improvement so we encourage teams to use the newfound insights they discover from steps one and two above and take the leap. We have witnessed the power of feedback transform individuals and teams – recently one senior executive client commented ‘I’ve been doing these things for over 15 years and no one ever told me how damaging they were.’

In the final post in this series, Jack McGuinness will explain the importance of peers holding each other accountable.

This post originally appeared at ChiefExecutive.net at https://chiefexecutive.net/tips-reenergizing-leadership-team and was reprinted with permission.


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