Guest post by Jennifer Oppelt
Great leaders are thoughtful and deliberate, not impulsive, reactive or demanding. Leaders motivate, encourage collaboration and inspire others to lead.
There’s no shame in admitting that you have room to improve as a leader. We all do. The first step is awareness. As an executive, here are some red flags -- indicators on your dashboard -- that will let you know if you are the bottleneck or source of your team's dysfunction.
1. It feels like you’re wasting time in meetings
Do you have an objective for the meeting -- a reason to meet or something to accomplish? Has your sales meeting turned into a training/coaching session? Has your weekly standup turned into a festival of grievances? Are you asking for input from the team only to circle back to your original idea or argument? Get a grip on your meeting flow. My husband wrote a book about this.
2. Turnover / Employee Churn
Your people aren’t sticking around. It’s an even bigger warning sign if you’re having trouble retaining your top talent. You know what they say about the losing poker hand. If you look around the table and can’t tell who it is, it’s you. There are many reasons why people leave jobs. Their position may lack purpose and fulfillment. Their strengths may be underutilized. Growth opportunities may not be available. Or, they may not align with or respect company leadership. You must take personal responsibility for creating a work culture that is engaging and inspiring.
3. The team is not hitting their goals
The team might still look as busy as ever, but there is a decrease in productivity. They might be unclear on the objectives. As Brene Brown instructs, you may need to “paint done” for them. This means providing a high level of visual detail so that the outcome is crystal clear. With a clear vision of the target and the proper words of encouragement, any team can get motivated.
4. People seem to be holding back
Your team members used to be filled with brilliant ideas but they’ve stopped pitching them. Your new hires have a certain sparkle that seems to fade once they get into the grind of the day-to-day. Your team is no longer providing feedback, opinions or pushing back against your ideas. They’ve given up or are just saying “I don’t know.” This isn’t normal. If you want a culture of contribution and collaboration you need to listen to your team, make sure they feel valued and incorporate some of their ideas and feedback.
5. You or your team have no work/life balance
If you are working 24/7 and you can’t step away from the business to take a week’s vacation, something is seriously wrong. No one likes to think of themselves as a micromanager but that’s exactly what you are if your team can’t make decisions or move projects forward without your constant involvement. Empower your team to lead. Set them up for success with clear expectations and remove obstacles that prevent them from taking ownership. Cross train your team and provide accessible SOPs so that everyone can enjoy time off while the business runs smoothly. Keep an eye on team members' workloads and hire proactively to avoid burnout and costly mistakes from hiring in panic mode.
6. Implementing or sticking to a strategy feels impossible
Succeeding without a plan is possible, but not sustainable. You can build the plane as you fly it for a while but things start falling apart when you don’t take time to plan. Constant change and pivots create chaos which leads to confusion and eventually mistrust. The time you spend on creating and onboarding your team to a strategy is a worthwhile investment. With a good strategy you can get clear on team priorities, assign accountable champions and define measurable outcomes that let you know if you are on track.
We use four key questions to create great meetings. They are called the OARRs (Objective, Agenda, Rules and Roles) and are inspired by our work with The Grove Consultants International.
The OARRs are a sure-fire way to identify your primary objective (“What do we hope to achieve?”), articulate your agenda (“What must we do today?”), get clear on team roles (“Who needs to be in the room and what are they doing?”) and establish some ground rules (“What behaviors do we need to set and reinforce so that we may follow the agenda and achieve our objective?”).
1. What is the Objective for the meeting?
Is the meeting to make a decision, share knowledge, explore ideas, or address a challenge? The objective will determine who needs to be there, the length of the meeting, and the right time of day for the meeting.
You don’t hold a brainstorming meeting directly after lunch, when the team is full and sluggish. Those meetings are best in the morning when (most) people are open-minded, fresh, and creative.
2. What is the Agenda?
To keep everyone focused and to determine the duration of the meeting, you’ll need an agenda. This is a list of all of the business you need to cover or all the decisions you need to make. Consider using a Visual Agenda — either a set of boxes sized according to how much time is spent on each or a Pie Chart Agenda.
There are always at least three components to every agenda:
3. What are Our Roles?
Based on the Objective and the Agenda, determine who needs to be in the meeting and what their roles are. Roles can be based on a participant’s job description, their expertise, their knowledge of the problem and the marketplace, or their position as a producer or stakeholder.
You may assign some roles to people at the outset of the meeting. Who is transcribing or taking notes? Who is acting as a facilitator? Who is keeping track of time and making sure lunch gets ordered? Who is the designated “Devil’s Advocate” — acting as the wrangler of unicorns and asking tough questions about how we might fail? It helps to think about these roles metaphorically. Are you the person driving, coaching, cheerleading, building, etc.?
See also: The Five Vital Roles in Any Virtual Meeting
4. What are the Rules?
Rules help us cross the finish line as a team. Rules are the covenant and the contract that we abide by as a community. We establish affinity, trust and relationship by mutually agreeing on and following the rules.
If your meeting is being held to reach a decision, then your rules need to create a process of decision-making. You might have a rule about deferring new ideas, projects or business to a later date. You might have a rule about withholding judgment, instead asking specific questions that help you arrive at a decision.
If you’re establishing an environment of trust, respect, consensus and collaboration, you might have rules about always speaking for yourself (using “I” language), raising your hand, or speaking one-at-a-time.
If the meeting is exploratory — designed to share knowledge or brainstorm big, wild ideas — then the rules must support creativity and openness. We borrowed one of the most effective rules for generativity from improv comedy: “Yes, and …”
See also: The Power of "Yes, and ..."
By invoking the rule of “Yes, and …” we stay positive and build on each other’s thoughts, honoring what everyone has to say.
Problem-solving meetings may include the rules “All information is valuable” or “No idea is too small.”
You may invoke “Honesty” as a rule, reminding everyone that we will only achieve our goals if we trust one another and respect each other enough to tell the truth.
If you don’t want people on their phones or laptops, then invoke the rule of “Focus,” “Presence,” or “All In.” Kindly instruct them that if they need to handle business they can take it out of the room (or turn off their cameras) and return when they’re done.
If it’s to be a highly-visual meeting with lots of people sketching or scribing, you may add the rule, “Don’t make fun of others’ drawings.”
After reviewing the rules, you may ask, “Are there any rules we forgot?”
Allowing the participants to create rules together is a way to ensure commitment and engagement early in the process.
Part 1: The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter (1996)
If you were in a facilitation led by me this past year, chances are high that while you brainstormed or wrote silently or sorted and posted up your stickies in MURAL you heard some retro–tiki, instrumental lounge music playing in the background.
That album is The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter and I played it so much in my sessions this year that, according to Apple Music, the album (along with killer releases by Hailey Williams and Moses Sumney) is one of my top 5 albums of 2020.
Most of the people I worked with this year were innovation teams, executives and leadership teams, Chief Innovation Officers and CEOs looking to manage the growth phase of their business or train innovation thinking and best practices throughout their organization.
The work we do together usually spans multiple half-day sessions where we are using collaborative workspaces (like MURAL) to gain clarity or consensus, cast a big vision, work on culture and communication, prioritize initiatives and outcomes, develop a strategic plan or stay accountable to the process.
When facilitating, especially during visioning or brainstorming, I usually build in plenty of time to work silently or write and reflect. And I’m always on a search for music without lyrics to distract from the thinking process.
Sometimes jazz is what I'm after. But, if it’s too busy (like bop or free jazz) it can feel distracting and chaotic, and if it’s too mellow (like smooth jazz) it can feel hokey. 70s–era Miles Davis is greatly atmospheric (i.e. In a Silent Way) and a personal favorite, but the tone of his trumpet can end up sounding grating or tinny when run through Zoom’s compressors or played through tiny laptop speakers.
Sometimes down–tempo electronic or dance can serve to keep the energy steady throughout a session. Goa (a blend of trance and techno) can work for high-energy activities. Minimalist electronic music with blips and washes of sound works great for quieter sessions (think Brian Eno or Bill Laswell). You may also find various playlists, designed for reading or studying, that fit the mood.
For whatever reason, The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter was the album that I played in the most sessions this year and it took a well-deserved spot in my top 5. I suppose it provided the right balance of tension/adventure (like standing in the line at Disney Land) as well as the non-threatening and nostalgic sounds you may find in your grandparents' living room.
I'd love to go through my library and feature some other music that I facilitate and work to. But I’m dying to know -- what is your go-to instrumental music for facilitation, working, studying or reading?
Please sound off in the comments below.
If you want to inspire the innovation spirit in your meeting, begin with one simple ground rule: “Yes, and...”
Here is why it’s important:
BONUS: It even works when used sarcastically.
To save time and maximize your collective intelligence, use the phrase “Yes, and...” instead of “no” or “yes, but …”
Here’s how to set this up for success:
1. At the beginning of your meeting, establish your objective by answering “At the end of this meeting, what will we have accomplished?” Make the outcome crystal clear. You don’t even have to use the word “innovation.”
2. Next, establish “Yes, and…” as one of the rules.
Here’s what you might tell your team: “Many times, when we are in team meetings, we use the words “no” or “yes, but ...” to make our points. Those powerful words can cut off the flow of ideas and solutions. They stop forward movement. “Yes, and” can eliminate negating words and attitudes. Think of volleyball, where the goal is to keep the ball in the air. Just as we would pass the ball to a teammate to get it over the net, we need to trust others with our ideas and know that they have the potential to improve.”
3. Encourage your team to try the sarcastic use. It breaks the ice and allows everyone to understand it really does work. (See “Yes, and…” in Action, below)
4. Proceed through your meeting as normal. And have fun.
A small shift in language (and attitude) can provide exponential impact in your team. These simple tools are ways to accelerate your innovation potential into a hard-wired reality.
“YES, AND …” IN ACTION
Facilitator: "Our vision for 2025 is bold."
Person 1: "Yes, and it will take all of us performing at our best."
Person 2: "Yes, and I know this team is capable."
Person 3: "Yes, and I'm glad we are discussing strategy today."
Person 4: "Yes, and I'm excited about my new role!"
Facilitator: “The weather is really bad today.”
Person 1: “Yes, and it’ll probably get better.”
Person 2: “Yes, and the sun always comes out.”
Person 3: “Yes, and when it does, maybe I’ll leave early and go to the beach.”
Person 4: “Yes, and maybe I’ll go with you.”
Person 5: “Yes, and I’ll bring the sandwiches!”
This conversation (or something like it) has been replicated many times by practicing “Yes, and …” as an ice breaker. Notice how it doesn’t take long to turn a complaint about the weather into a beach party.
It just takes two simple words.
This is an excerpt from The Visual Meetings Field Guide: How to Facilitate Great Meetings for Amazing Teams - the fully-illustrated master playbook for turning your meetings into engines of productivity and culture.
Get your copy on Amazon now.
In my latest book, The Visual Meetings Field Guide: How to Facilitate Great Meetings for Amazing Teams, I laid out the following roles that we have found vital in any virtual meeting or session.
Great virtual facilitation is a team effort. Like the DJ and producer on radio programs, the core duo of facilitator and conductor are at the heart of the virtual experience. Other presenters may add color or interest, and graphic recorders bring their own jaw-dropping magic.
The facilitator is the pied piper of the session. They design and deliver the attendee experience, guiding the participants through the work effort and into application. The facilitator determines the outcomes and then helps carry them through. They keep the expedition on track (and on time) and leads them through virtual space.
The conductor engineers the session. They act as a director or broadcast engineer, changing sets, switching cameras, and acting as hype-man for the facilitator. The conductor helps to build the virtual architecture the participants will move through. They primarily keep their head down, with one eye on the script or field guide and the other eye on the timer. They may also act as DJ, link paster, breakout facilitator and announcer. Even more than the facilitator, the conductor is meticulously aware of the agenda and the details of delivery.
3. Graphic Recorder
The graphic recorder is a scribe, capturing content and reflecting it back in real time. The facilitator needs to mindfully guide participant attention to the graphic recorder. Through constant telepresence, moments of screen share or “gallery walks” the facilitator can share the graphic recorder’s work. The reveal can act as a leg stretch, a Q&A (What do you see? What did we miss?), a wow moment, an energy barometer, or a magic trick.
Presenters are the special attraction. They are invited into a session as a guest. The facilitator transfers esteem to the presenter through their introduction. A presenter’s main job is to deliver content. Presenters are subject matter experts and usually come with their own slides. Just as in face-to-face facilitations, presenters may need additional information about the meeting or the participants in advance (How many people? Who are they? What are their roles in the company? What are their needs/big wishes?).
A consultant is a high-performance thinking partner. In meetings, they post up, brainstorm, listen, reflect, and make recommendations. Consultants are sometimes experts in specialty areas (entrepreneurship, manufacturing, non-profits, marketing, etc.). They aim to deliver supreme value as temporary team members. Consultants may facilitate or co-facilitate, but they never act as the conductor.
The first thing to ask yourself (or your team) is: will our meetings help us reach our goals?
Consider this: If you don’t have goals and you are in a meeting to evaluate and make decisions about vendors or a specific technology, the meeting is pointless. You won’t know what technology or partners you’ll need if you don’t know what you want to achieve. A better beginning would be a goal-setting session to determine the purpose and outcomes of any future meetings.
Here are some initial questions to determine whether a meeting is even necessary:
Successful meetings always further your team’s goals and always require their collective genius to make progress. If these criteria aren’t met, you have no reason to meet.
Here are the Top 10 signs your meetings are unnecessary or need to radically change:
This is just the tip of a very boring and painful iceberg. If you have experienced any of these symptoms, my latest book, The Visual Meetings Field Guide was written to help you design meetings that are fun, energizing and prime your team for action. From now on, your meetings will galvanize culture and get things done.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.