Team Process Breakdown!

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December 9, 2015

A CEO called me a couple of weeks ago saying he got my name from a couple of different sources. His senior team had been struggling for over a year with a make or buy issue in a developing service line and were stuck at the level of strong opinions and strong, often intractable emotions. I was asked to come in and lead a discussion with the goal of definitively moving ahead in one direction or another.

When it comes to behaviors, I don’t make promises. What I promised was to lead the team through a discussion of the members’ key concerns aimed at identifying a definitive set of steps they would agree to in order to move the issue ahead.

I interviewed the members individually in front of everyone using a technique called a Time Out. In the Time Out, we don’t seek to brainstorm or solve a problem; we seek to learn what life is like for each of the team members. It’s a powerful learning technique where people make connections for themselves (rather than being told) on what their team members are dealing with that they might not have appreciated previously. It takes not only candor and safety, but a collectively willingness to tell your truth. That is more easily said than done, but the CEO did a great job of setting up why we were all together, the pressing business need and the intended outcome for the session.

In this Time Out, each person answered a series of questions around what life was like for them working on this team on this lingering issue, the good and exciting as well as the bad and draining. Most members took this to heart and we identified the salient concerns. From there, we worked as a group to understand the business imperative of the make-buy issue in order to use the business need as the metric for action. The group had not done the requisite analysis work to know definitively which option made the most sense because they had never got past the strong opinions and shared emotions.

By changing the outcome metric to what was important for the future of the company we were able to identify the honest concerns of each party. Once concerns were shared honestly, we could keep from being dragged back into individual preferences, pet concerns, strong personalities or unarticulated emotions. We put the issues up on a flip chart for all to see and to be addressed.

The meeting went well (it was still work, not a vacation) and resulted in a small team moving ahead on the key issues over a specific future time frame to be reported to the CEO. The CEO was happy to have a plan with deliverables, the participants acknowledged that their key concerns would be addressed and a framework for decision making was adopted that was not based on personal idiosyncrasies, but on legitimate business concerns.

Perhaps more importantly, the team now has a new tool to deal with issues honestly and forthrightly in the future when their next big challenge threatens to derail them.



BE BETTER NOW – A Leadership Call to Action – Take a moment right now to put your thoughts into action

  1. What is ONE ASPECT of your professional life that might benefit from more or different attention in this subject area (enhancing the impact you make on others)?
  1. What is ONE THING you could do TODAY that would move you more deliberately in this direction? The Behavior or action I could take (verb); I will…
  1. HOW will you ensure you are developing – WITH WHOM can you share this goal or add to your brain trust to hold yourself accountable?
  1. MAKE a 10 minute calendar appointment right now to check in with yourself on this topic next week (better yet – for each following week). Keep it practical – write brief notes on two questions only:
  • What clear steps did I take last week for my own development?
  • What will I focus on executing next week?

Need some thought partner time? – Call/email at 336.918.8415

Practical – Relevant – Immediately Useful