How to Confront Reality with Your Team

Julia invited me to sit in the back of the room. I love to be a fly on the wall.

“I have had a couple of team meetings, already,” she explained, “but, for the most part, they were steeped in pretense. They weren’t very productive, but we did get all the nicey, nice stuff out of the way. Today, there will be friction.”

At 9:00am, Julia locked the door. Ralph and two others had yet to arrive, but Julia started anyway. Thirty seconds later, there was a soft tap, tap at the door. Julia motioned for Michael to attend to the late arrivals. As Ralph and one other entered the room, she directed them to chairs up front, next to her. As they were sitting, the last remaining person burst into the room, the team was now complete.

At each place, was the 3×5 card that Julia told me about. She had prepared these in her 1-1 conversations with each team member. They had each seen these cards before and now they would be the basis for a brand new conversation.

“Today, the subject is purpose. In front of you is a 3×5 card that we prepared together during this past week. These are your words describing an accomplishment on an important project.”

Julia paired them up to trade their stories of purpose past. Two minutes later, each pair was recording their work on a flip chart, one writing, one telling the story to the group.

Twenty-five minutes later, they had a written record of significant accomplishments during the past two years.

“Where do we go from here?” Julia asked.

“We just do more of the same,” Ralph chimed in.

Julia’s eyes met with each team member around the table. Without looking down, she pulled out a large chart with two lines on it. One line was moving up, colored green. One line was moving down, colored red.

Julia explained that the green line was the incoming work. It was a good thing. The red line going down was the department’s profit. That was a bad thing.

“How do we get the red line to turn up?” Julia asked the group.

All eyes turned to Ralph. “Just do more of the same?” he repeated, but this time it was a question.

“I know you can do it,” said Julia. “Since the meeting started, we have talked very seriously about how well we work. But something has changed. Something in our process is slipping, or missing, or we may be doing something wrong. Together, we need to find out what it is.” She stopped. The room was silent. For what seemed like ten minutes, she let silence do the heavy lifting. In reality, it was only twenty seconds.

“The question is still on the table,” she said. “How do we get the red line to turn up?”

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