Leading a Team Discussion
In a business near you. It is Friday morning. Everyone is required to arrive early and be ready to listen to the boss talk for 25 minutes about important matters. Usually about how the team needs to lift their game. Everyone listens but no-one leaves inspired. The boss speaks. People listen but rarely ask questions. And if there is team discussion it is rarely useful. No-one comes prepared with ideas. It is a time that is endured which adds little to the health or success of the business.
This whole scenario would be so different if every business owner learned how to lead an engaging team discussion. Positive team meetings where everyone is able to make an informed contribution help build healthy team culture. Without being able to make a meaningful contribution belonging and ownership always remains weak. If a team meeting is only viewed as a vehicle for the leader to pass on information staff members will be passive and engagement will always be low. To create a dynamic team it is important to learn how to create the environment for meaningful team discussion.
Setting up a positive team discussion
A team discussion can occasionally just happen when a burning question is asked in the lunch room. But mostly people are on their phones and trying to switch off work during their break. Usually such discussions degenerate into whinging about someone or something.
A productive team discussion requires some context and structure. Context makes the discussion relevant (e.g. how can we find a better way to do X, Y, Z?). Structure provides some helpful boundaries (e.g. a key question or a couple of possible options for making change). This gives people time to prepare and come up with ideas.
Key factors of which to be aware leading a team discussion
When leading a team discussion these are the the main factors to keep your eye on:
- Team ‘group’ dynamics – this includes being aware of the dynamics created by the team history. If an open discussion is new for the team it may take some time for them to learn how to make this work. Sometimes someone with seniority may need to be helped to realise they do not have to always have the final word or to know best. Any relationship conflicts will need to be put aside; which may require you as leader to have a quiet word behind the scenes with people who need help to move on from a past issue.
- Personality styles – Some personalities love to speak up and share their thoughts in a team environment. Others find it more difficult to express themselves. The quieter team members sometimes need to be encouraged to speak up, while the louder members may need to be politely asked to give some room for others to share.
- Tangents – Keeping a team discussion on topic is important. If something emerges that is a helpful tangent then it can be parked for another time, in order to make sure the team finishes the current topic first.
Main skills required for leading a team discussion
The main skills required to lead an engaging team discussion are:
- Facilitation skills – Facilitation is the skill of setting up a secure environment in which participants feel safe to be open and share their ideas, listen as well as speak, disagree without becoming personal, and move to increased common understanding as a result. Facilitation involves strategic moments of leadership. e.g. stepping in to ask a question, then sitting back while participants speak; stepping in to thank someone for their contribution and inviting a quieter person to share; stepping in to ask another question when the conversation needs moving on; etc.
- People and Group awareness skills – Social and Emotional Intelligence skills are vital for leaders of growing businesses. (See Daniel Goleman) This is all about developing self-awareness, self-management, others’ awareness and relationship management. Such skills used to be called the ‘soft leadership skills’. In the 21st Century marketplace where dominant hierarchical leadership styles rarely work, those with the ‘soft skills’ rule.
You may need to help your team learn how to have a discussion where everyone gets a chance to be heard, ask a question, disagree, and be helpful. Some have never been part of such an environment, not even in their family. For some it is a new thing to participate as a team with one focus in one discussion, rather than a free for all where no-one really listens to anyone.
The leader’s primary role is to create a safe place for open trusting discussion. If the key points mentioned in this article are followed then a healthy environment for team discussion will be built. Your workplace culture will become healthier. And your team will look forward to opportunities to work together. You will be far more likely to have an engaging team discussion where everyone leans in and no-one falls asleep.