Updated: Nov 22, 2021
As a leader, you have an enormous role to play to keep your team strong and your employees engaged. What I’m about to share comes from my experience with the approach that I’ve been using for the last 15 years with my CANU clients. In brief, during each workshop, after having created a psychologically safe space, I have each team live an experience. A kind of laboratory of human experience in a context of performance. Sometimes the experience simulates workplace dynamics. Other times, we go back to the past or visualize the future. In all cases, the participants interpret what they’ve been through to better understand themselves and others. A rigorous and compassionate facilitation that allows people to identify the needs that should be satisfied to allow for a more committed work experience. What’s the secret? Hundreds of workshops have led us to two powerful realizations.
The first of these key points is a true gift except that you may not initially like how it’s packaged: you get the team that you deserve as a leader. What does that mean in practical terms? If you aren’t happy, good news: you have the power to change things. Team members will open up as much as their leader will open up, but to stay open isn’t easy. Here are some blind spots leaders may have in their capacity to remain receptive. Maybe you will recognize yourself? Ok, understandably you need to be open to see yourself. Shall we try? You receive feedback on what you can improve on and your whole body contracts. You want to create change, except you behave as if the mistake was unforgivable. You want people to take more initiative, but only if they do it your way. You want to train your employees, but you haven’t asked their permission. You think that your staff hasn’t picked up on how stressed you are, but they are just as tense. You don’t talk about what scares you because you think it can make things worse. At the same time, your employees would like to feel closer to you. You’re tired of hallway conversations, but you don’t have a team agreement. You would like your staff to rise to the challenge, but you don’t give them access to your rationale for important decisions. But, of course, because it’s in your head, it’s obvious. Do you see yourself in any of this? The good news is that every time things change for the better, this is how it begins.
Now for the second realization. It’s the path to deserving the team that you want. Are you ready? You need to go out and get the perspective of your employees in a systematic fashion. You can’t just keep your eyes fixed on the future objectives of the company and your hands busy with daily tasks. You need to do something else… with your ears. But, you know, maybe if there’s a problem, or they aren’t satisfied, they will come talk to you about it. Maybe you’re telling yourself that things are going too fast to take the time. Maybe you’re telling yourself that you have an anonymous online survey for that…
Our laboratory of human experience reveals that people don’t want to “bother” or “hold back” the group when you are so enthusiastic about your idea during the management meeting and that they have a question to ask… they don’t want to seem “against” the idea, or even worse, they don’t feel important when there isn’t any more time to give their perspective. When it’s a matter of strategy, they need the big picture that comes with a big WHY to give meaning to their contribution as well as to feel that their intelligence is being stimulated... so much more so than the small details that you prefer going into!
The invaluable principle that you must take into consideration: There is always a difference between what you want, what your team understands and what you are able to achieve. Teams that work well together have learned this and will do everything they can to make the gaps visible. In other words, as a leader, it’s fun to work on your message and vision, but it’s so much more useful for you to listen to what people have understood and how they feel. I hear so often, coming out of workshops, how much people feel valued to participate in a conversation where they feel understood instead of having to convince. To understand. To feel understood. That’s it, that’s all. People disconnect when things lose meaning for them and when they feel they’ve been stuck for too long.
There are all kinds of ways to create openness and to bring oxygen into the relationship between you and your team. For example, you can start by asking the following question to an employee on a Monday and ask for a response by Friday: “What can I stop doing or start doing differently in our interpersonal dynamics so that you feel more apt to contribute to the success of the business?” That way, you are making one of your team members responsible. When you have your answer on Friday, you can also ask this ally to help you take the next step. Still not convinced? Take some time with your CFO and calculate together the costs associated with replacing a member of your team. Do you have the budget for that? You don’t? Maybe it’s time to ask for some help! Asking for help is often the key to autonomy! A HR partner, a mentor or a coach can facilitate taking a step back and giving your team the tools needed to come together. Don’t wait any longer. Start taking action today!