Recently I facilitated a workshop for a team of leaders. While the planned topic wasn’t to be about communications, turns out that’s where we headed.
The workshop was simple, though not necessarily easy. Our goal was to affirm common purpose, identify the top five most important things going on, and to make personal commitments for next steps.
Having run many similar leadership workshops in the past, I generally find that the first part of the workshop is like running on asphalt pavement; we had good traction. While not always the case, in my experience this is usual when the team is passionate about what it does. We had good traction.
And, normally teams start to get stuck when the dialog turns to personal commitments. This is like turning off the asphalt pavement and heading up a muddy side road. Things get slippery.
During this particular workshop, we were pushing two commitment questions. What will you commit to giving or doing for the team? What do you need from others on the team?
Basically, what you will you give the team and what do you need the team to give you.
This particular team remained highly functional, yet, the commitment part of the workshop got slippery, like tires spinning in the mud. In this situation, less is more.
When I drive my 4×4 on that muddy road, the more I spin, the faster I try to go, the more I get stuck. All that spinning just digs a hole, and the more I spin my tires the deeper the hole. I get stuck.
This can happen during a commitment conversation. Most likely, when someone says they need something from me I think “Hey, I already do that.”
“Hey, I already do that. What do you mean you need me to do more of what I already do?” It is easy, way to too easy, to get defensive and not even be aware of it. The more I explain. The more logic in use. The more I share examples. I am just spinning my tires. Digging that hole. Getting stuck.
Three things to do, so you don’t get stuck:
1. Listen to the facilitator.
The facilitator is there to help you. The facilitator is there to help the team. You, of course, and everyone else. A good facilitator will not let you go off the deep end, or get lost on that muddy side road, but, you have to listen. Listen for cues from the facilitator when he or she is asking you to refocus, to move from defensive (not safe) to here and now (safe). Let the facilitator steer, and you focus on participating, contributing relevant insights and thoughts.
2. Stop after two sentences.
Provide your input in small bits and pieces. Several reasons. It keeps you from spinning your wheels, and it allows others to have opportunities to participate. It ensures you will not be perceived as dominating the discussion. Share your thoughts in one to two sentence portions. Keep your thoughts focused. Answer questions and provide insight without wandering off into dangerous territory. I am not suggesting that you “play it safe” — I am suggesting that you be concise, focused and relevant.
3. Ask clarifying questions.
Most facilitators will ask clarifying questions — you can, too. Do this with care, you do not want your clarifying questions to be perceived as obstructionist or resistant. You do want to ask if what you heard was understood by you the way another team member may have meant it, and you want to ensure what you contribute is understood the way you meant it. Clarifying questions should not be used in excess, however, well placed, they will greatly reduce the spinning wheels. This is one way to get to a common understanding of common ground.
If time permits, ask the facilitator to lead a post meeting debrief. Did everyone feel safe? Do we understand that what we say or do during a workshop stays with the workshop? Are we willing and able to follow through on our commitments? Are we willing to get back together to share evidence of meeting our commitments?
Stay out of the mud. Less is more.