The meeting was almost over. Butts in chairs began to shift toward the door.
“Take this 3×5 index card and write your name on it. Below that, write down the one thing you are going to do in the next week based on what we talked about, today.” The puzzled faces gave way to ideas for action and the writing began. Forty-five seconds later, we started around the table, each in turn, in front of the group, making a public commitment.
At the end of each meeting, there is an anabolic window that most managers never take advantage of. This window is a short period of time in which growth occurs. Ten minutes later, the window is gone.
Public commitment to action. Your team was engaged the past twenty minutes in a meeting about improving the work-flow process. At the end of the meeting, you could adjourn and lose the window, or you could stop and ask for a public commitment to action. It could be the most powerful three minutes of the meeting.
Oh, bring your 3×5 card to the meeting next Monday. We want to know how you did.
“Sometimes, I feel like I am fighting an uphill battle,” Camella explained. “I call a meeting and describe what I want done. We go over all the details, but some just want to rain on the parade. They talk it down in the meeting so it has no chance when it makes it to manufacturing. I know I want to do the right thing and get buy in before we get started, but I feel like I am stalemated.”
“Have you ever reversed the process?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” said Camella, gaining curiosity.
“Sometimes, when I know the explanation is going to draw fire, I don’t explain. Sometimes, I just sweep people into action. Before anyone has a chance to protest or complain that something won’t work, we demonstrate that it will work. We don’t have to go through the whole process, just enough to warm the team up to the idea. Action first, then we debrief and go for buy-in, after they have proved to themselves that it will work.”
Peter Schutz was clear about context and leadership. There was a time to floor-plan the responsibilities in the pit at Le Mans, and a time for the crew to execute in the moment. Effectiveness is determined by the deployment of appropriate leadership skills based on context. It is context that determines which must happen.
Leadership is not a simple checklist, or even a complex checklist where boxes are ticked off on completion. It is context that drives what has to happen.
And do not mistake this context for stimulus response, requiring high levels of improvisation. Context can be understood in discrete levels of time(span). There are, indeed, circumstances that require immediate, instinctual action, balanced against long-term trends that require rhythmic contemplation and reflection. Effective leaders must have a sense for both.
From the Ask Tom mailbag:
I am a new manager. I hold a weekly meeting that goes pretty well. We say the things that need to be said and make our plans, but the meetings seem to bomb at the end. They just stop. The energy in the room is flat. I tried to give a motivational rah-rah speech at last week’s meeting but it fell flat on its face. I wish I had kept my mouth shut. The meeting is missing something at the end. How can we finish on a high note?
Follow your own advice and keep your mouth shut. Unless you are one of the rare charismatic managers, your attempts to raise the energy level will feel contrived and pointless.
Because the energy is all coming from you. You need some help. Try the following exercise.
At the end of the meeting, distribute 3×5 index cards. Have everyone write down one action item they plan to do based on the meeting. Then make your way around the table, asking each team member, in turn, to publicly state (in one sentence) their commitment to action. You will be amazed at the rise in energy as you adjourn the meeting.
This is no hollow rah-rah. The reason this works is because it is real and every person participates. -Tom