Five Ways to Invite Your Team into Supporting Great Dialogue
If there is one thing that we see teams stymied by, boring and ineffective team meetings is high on the list. As leaders and facilitators, we feel for the team leaders that put SO much effort into planning and preparing for a great meeting. Sometimes it works well and the ideas are really popping. The team is aligned and the shared experience is really purposeful.
At other times, things really fall flat. The leader has processed so much of the problem, but team members fail to really pick up on the key issues. Some use the moment to deposit tangential suggestions that don’t address the issue at hand. At other times, team members give stilted speeches without really addressing what someone else shared. Or… the dreaded crickets start chirping, and you wonder if the mute button is perpetually stuck.
Today we want you to think about how you invite your team to carry the load alongside you. A team can bring an upswell of momentum to support great collaboration.
Here are five suggestions on how you can call your team in as partners to enliven the dialogue.
1. Signal what type of meeting you are seeking to create.
There is a very different energy in a brainstorming session compared with a “ready to roll” meeting as you are about to implement.
By telling team members what the purpose is, it helps them to understand the behaviors that will be fruitful in that setting. Some teams will even use specific words to describe a type of meeting. For example, at the Brene Brown Education and Research Group, the team knows that a “rumble” is a type of conversation that will deeply explore an issue, ask for vulnerability, and stick through a process together. “We need to rumble with you” is a cue for a heartfelt conversation. (Here is another set of sample meeting purposes to get your brain turning.)
This may seem obvious to you, but we see leaders often get so focused on the content of what they are planning that they miss the cues. If you’re looking for people to come in with open minds
and a problem solving space, showing them an agenda that looks buttoned up and detail oriented won’t help them see that.
Sharing a little more in your head of what this meeting needs to provide will make a difference.
2. Narrate the behaviors of dialogue and your expectation that everyone should lean in where needed
Have you ever seen a great rally in volleyball? When two well matched teams are in a flow, there is a fluidity to the teams. Everyone plays different roles – serving up, passing to others, setting someone up, driving home. They talk to each other, shift around the court, and know when to help someone who is out of position.
Great dialogue on a team is like this in many ways. Rather than just expect the team leader to do all of the talking and facilitating, team members can contribute in many different ways.
Here are some examples of the different roles team members can play, and how we need to hit a balanced experience in each piece.
In Overdrive, This Role Would…
If this is weak or doesn’t exist
Kickstarter - Lift off conversation by framing the issue and asking questions
Over-explains the issue, talks at people, and asks questions that diminish thinking
Lots of spinning ensues. Very broad questions or insufficient info leave the group making sense of what conversation is really about.
Receiver - Creates initial momentum by responding to the kickstarter
Provides such an exhaustive response that no one else needs to respond; sets a tone that is hard for others to add to
Crickets. Sparks from the kickstarter dwindle
Contributor - Respond to the question at hand, adding fodder for discussion
Uses the group discussion to process externally; doesn’t share the air time; doesn’t build on what others say
Start/stop conversations with no momentum
Connector - Shows what is compelling about others comments or recaps what the team has named
Narrates so much that progress is stunted
People talk past each other, giving mini-speeches. People take away very different things.
Honer - Fine tunes the issues by surfacing what is being missed
Mires the conversation in nuance; creates a feeling of criticism rather than possibility
Conversations miss the real issues, or decisions are made without appreciating the substantive challenges
Monitor - Notes the dialogue dynamic and calls out what may be needed
Stays aloof and doesn’t engage themselves, and invites an uptight, stress-induced dynamic
Rabbit holes, swirling, or unproductive conversation abound
It’s important to see that everyone needs to rotate into different roles. If one person is always the Honer they will wear a critical groove into their leadership. Or if you always have the same people stepping in as Responders, the team will always sit back and wait for them to speak.
The goal is for the team to understand that they are responsible for seeing what is needed, and for trying to fill (or at least name) that need.
We often hear people who are more quiet in meetings say “I only speak up when I feel like I have something insightful to say.” To that, we offer the invitation to broaden what a contribution to the team is. They can bring some momentum by stating some of the obvious things, or narrating the patterns that the team is in, etc.
By helping the team to see all of these parts, they start to own the experience.
3. Ask your team to help contribute to portions of the facilitation
These tips can work if you as a leader are the primary facilitator of the meeting. However, the energy (and the lift!) can shift significantly when you invite other people to lead a portion of a discussion or guide the team through an experience. These can range from small ways where they are in charge of an opener, or large ways where you delegate a portion of the agenda for someone else to facilitate. Just remember: there is no virtue in a meeting sitting 100% on you. The upfront planning that it takes to delegate is real, but the more you do it, the more the team will feel a sense of ownership. With skin in the game, they will feel in it with you, and that investment will spill over in a myriad of ways.
4. Help your meeting norms live
Many leaders know that team norms can create a common standard for behavior to expect in meetings. When done well, these norms can make it easier for anyone to narrate behavior that isn’t helpful.
For example, the classic challenge of in-person meetings comes when people are multitasking on different devices. We love to see the moment when someone else in the room calls the team into functioning well. Someone speaks up to say, “Hey team, I’m realizing a number of us seem to be pulled away. We made a commitment to stay present. I’m wondering if we need to take a break.”
Sounds dreamy, right? Well, for this behavior to really work, the norms have to be more than a perfunctory set of generic words flashed as an exercise at the beginning of the meeting. Otherwise, they won’t really be top of mind or meaningful guides as you carry on.
We invite you to truly invest the team in the ways that they want to be with each other. Perhaps you take time in one meeting to refresh the norms and ask “who do we want to be with each other.” Maybe you pick a norm to be especially intentional about as a group, and you find ways to give each other feedback. You can save a few minutes at the end of the meeting to ask the team how well they lived them, and for long meetings, you can stop part-way through and see how they go. Tying into the point above, you can even ask someone to be a monitor to gauge how the team is doing and where they can be even more supportive.
There is no set way to do this, and it will change depending on how familiar your team is with each other and the norms. But holding a living vision of what you’re shooting for as a team can make all the difference.
5. Give enough space for real conversation
Last, but not least, the space you allocate for discussion is a huge signal to the team. You can do all sorts of preparation for conversation, but signal in other ways that people shouldn’t really speak up. For example, opening up a conversation with just a few minutes left will not create a generative space for people. The ticking clock will leave the conversation open.
The amount of time isn’t the only thing that signals your openness to a conversation, either. The number of people in the room, the types of questions you pose, and the amount of latitude for change are other signals that you make in whether you really want to grapple with an issue.
We often see leaders attempt to make a joint decision in a room of 15-20 people. This model will often create the “round robin mini-speech” model where people take the mic and download all of their thoughts, unrelated to what others say, in order to play their role.
Consider your facilitator moves to break out into smaller groups, allocate the allotted time, or build on one another. If you are really serious about dialogue happening, you’ll be balancing the question of intimacy, time, and diversity of thought in order to invite people to really share what they think.
Pulling it all together
We know that crafting great meetings is a career-long quest for many people. It isn’t easy work, and there is no single way to get this right. Putting all of these together at one time might be too much at once. Start small, explain your why to the team, and continue to invest in their ownership along the way.
Our hope for you is that you see that you don’t have to hold so much. With a few shifts in your approach, the team can help to hold each other. And we have such optimism that you will have more ideas, greater lightness in your work, and greater fun and satisfaction along the way.
Here’s to the power of great dialogue. We know that it can bring so much for you!