5 Conversations To Have With Your Team

There are five process-related conversations that can help your team maintain better focus, dispel fear, and manage expectations. In this episode, I share the five conversations and how to implement them effectively.

First a few ground-rules. Do not steamroll your team with these and if you’re a team member, don’t barge into your manager’s office demanding to have these conversations. This is about relationship and relationship is about empathy, trust and commitment. If we’re going to have these conversations, we must be committed to the results, even if they’re not what we wish for. We have to be willing to hear the truth and act on it even when we dislike it.

One more quick ground rule. You need to be having these conversations both on a team level and an individual level with your team members. Some team members might not feel comfortable expressing themselves in a larger group, but they might have insights that can help you engage in a more healthy way if you give them space to talk. You need to formalize your conversations. In the words of management guru Peter Drucker, “what gets measured gets done.” You need to have a system for these conversations and not just wait for the opportune time to occur. It never will.

1. The Clarity Conversation

This conversation is all about bringing alignment and combatting dissonance with our teams. It’s about making sure that what we SAY we’re about is what we’re actually about. It’s about making sure that we understand the objectives of our projects, our teams and our organization’s reason for being.

– Do what/why add up? In other words, is what we SAY we’re about what we’re actually doing? One way to ask this question is “is there anything we’re doing right now that seems out of character for us?” Step back and allow the conversation to ensue. Don’t get defensive and don’t feel the need to argue. This is not about being right, it’s about discerning and identifying problems within the team.

– Do you understand the objectives? Are they clear? Is there anything you’re unclear about? Sometimes people won’t speak up because they assume that everyone else gets it and they’re the only idiot. This kind of isolation is a lie and it countermands creative effectiveness. The more we discuss the objectives until everyone is crystal clear, the better off we’ll be.

Clarity is critical to healthy team creating. The more clear we are about the problems we’re trying to solve, the more effective we will be in that creating. But the less clear we are about aligning the why and the what, the more our process will dissolve into chaos.

2. The Expectations Conversation

This very simple conversation is designed to neutralize the victim mindset. By calling out and allowing conversations about expectations we can be certain that we’re not allowing confusion to grow, which can lead to finger-pointing and self-protection rather than generosity and trust.

– Do you know what’s expected of you? Get the artist to express their understanding of expectations directly and simply.

– What do you expect from me and am I falling short? Again, don’t be defensive and try to defend yourself. If the stated expectations are unrealistic, have that conversation, but it’s important that you realize that your role is to serve, not to be right.

3. The Fear Conversation

This is the most nebulous of the conversations and is one of the more difficult to get people to open up to, but it can be one of the most powerful if we have the guts to engage in it. This is all about shining light into dark, unspoken places and neutralizing emerging fear.

– What are you afraid might happen and why? In other words, what makes you “gun shy” in your creating?

– Do you feel free to take risks? If so, why? What environmental cues are leading you to that?

4. The Engagement Conversation

This conversation is all about identifying patterns of engagement/energy/enthusiasm on the team. Creativity is rhythmic, both on an individual and team level and we have to take that into account as we’re planning our work. This conversation helps you – as the leader of process – to gauge where the team is in terms of energy and engagement and plan accordingly. It also helps the team – in a collective sense – to gain a better understanding of where each member is in terms of inspiration and energy level.

– What’s your energy level/enthusiasm?

– What’s inspiring you?

– How do you feel about the work you’re doing?

– What’s the best thing we’re doing and why?

5. The “Final 10%” Conversation

This conversation is all about neutralizing – as my friend Ben likes to call them – “whispers in the hallway.” These are the conversations that emerge when a small group of people want to commiserate but they don’t have the guts to speak their thoughts to the organization either because they’re spineless or because there isn’t a culture of trust. Either way, you are WAY better off having these conversations in a team context and one-on-one than allowing them to fester and create dissonance and fear. So what you’re going to do in this conversation is ask them to tell you the “final remnant” of feedback that they’re not going to volunteer unless you ask for it.

– What’s the dumbest thing I/we are doing right now?

– What’s the smartest thing I/we are doing right now?

– What something obvious that you don’t think I’m seeing?

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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