If someone asked you this very question, how might you respond? Thinking about how a team I work with conducts their conversations brought me some pause recently. As with any team, sometimes our discussions seem to flow at a good pace with each member highly tuned in. Then other times, total chaos seems to be the watch word as people just can’t seem to pull together in a reasonably committed direction. It can be frustrating anticipating how a discussion will play out, often preventing leaders from even beginning a conversation.
What constitutes an open or closed discussion?
Which type of conversation leads to stronger outcomes?
Is one type always the best approach to use?
Addressing these questions is the first step in cultivating a healthy team conversation. Additionally, leaders know intuitively that when team members are part of a solution or are asked for their ideas and suggestions the end result will more likely be supported by a team. Not only will the final product be looked at from all angles but also be richer in content.
Guidelines to an open team conversation:
Decide On How Open The Discussion Should Be
This might seem like a crazy step, but do not underestimate its power. All conversations are not equal. Some team discussions actually require far less discussion than others. For example, if a team is finalizing a design for a project and has already spent many hours debating how to proceed, a short conversation and vote may be all that is required. I have seen teams who keep reopening different arguments that should be put to rest quickly or the result will be discussions that keep going in circles. Leaders- know when to “fold and move forward”.
Choose All Involved Stakeholders
As important as understanding the topics or issues of a conversation, is inviting the people impacted by the discussion. Have you witnessed stakeholders being left out and then having separate conversations? This is asking for a disconnected result. To identify who needs to be part of the conversation:
- Think about which team members are most vital to carrying out the work.
- Simultaneously, consider those colleagues who won’t be closely involved.
- Numbers matter for meaningful discussions, so keep the group to a reasonable amount; maybe 5-7.
- Choose stakeholders who can hear others speak and be able to listen.
Present A Clear Agenda
A successful open team discussion relies heavily on a well-thought-out agenda. To create this type of agenda stakeholders need to be consulted ahead of time for their input into any of the topics or issues at hand. If those participating in the conversation feel blindsided or unprepared, there will be less openness and more sabotaging going on. So list the topics and if possible include time allocation for each.
Facilitate With Care and Validation
There can be a fine line between facilitating a conversation with everyone participating and one where everyone shares in a free-spirited kind of way. Especially on our virtual calls today, it is more critical than ever to have a tight facilitation to exchange ideas. To maintain an orderly and open conversation, facilitators need to:
- Keep the discussion focused on the particular topic on the table.
- Be cognizant of the time each stakeholder is speaking.
- Not allow any one speaker to monopolize the conversation.
- Assign someone to take notes of the conversation.
Design and Communicate Follow-Up
The last element of a successful open team conversation is creating the follow-up actions that need to be taken by each stakeholder. Before closing out the conversation, have each person restate their understanding of what they are responsible for including timeframes. Empower each stakeholder to own their piece.
How have you created team conversations that are open?