Meetings that Can Change Everything: Part III

I was stunned recently when a long-time client called to say, “Our team is not functioning well. We need help…soon.”

While it’s not uncommon to hear a team is struggling to be effective, it was a huge surprise with this particular group. I’d been working with them for many years and had always known them to be nothing short of high performing. It was hard for me to imagine them in a “dysfunctional” place.

When I arrived a few days later, my plan was more about discovering the issues than “fixing” the people. I truly wanted to understand what was causing a mature, productive team to unravel at their virtual seams.

We began the process by exploring the flow or “current,” with a deeper dive to confront the undertows. What exactly was dragging this team under?

When I asked team members to describe their “current reality,” the answers were fascinating. They used words like ragged, stressed and overwhelmed.  Tensions were running high and hot. People were feeling defensive and reactive.

Rapid even relentless change was a major theme in our discussion. For months the company had been reaching for ways to become more efficient and competitive.  Resources were limited and goals were aggressive. Everyone was being stretched…to the limit.

My first impression was “change fatigue.” The group obviously needed a moment to stabilize before tackling the next initiative, but there was more to uncover. The symptoms and causes were morphing into a new (and very dysfunctional) brand.

Conflict had become a real threat. Where they had once enjoyed productive and constructive dialogue, they were now sniping at and about each other.  Pseudo teams had formed and clichés had emerged.

Clearly the established ground rules and communication agreements had been thrown overboard.  (As we worked to diagnose the problem a hospital metaphor popped into my head. If trust were a “patient” in this place she’d be on life support.)

This team had slipped a gear, and these new patterns of behavior were chipping away at the culture. The rapid decline was astonishing! And there was definite fallout: a top producer had just resigned and another was actively seeking a new opportunity.  Good people were going away for all the wrong reasons.

What may have been most telling happened when I asked the group to share recent accomplishments and breakthroughs. The room fell silent.  These fabulous people were struggling to recall a success!

They had become so focused on the deadlines and next steps they completely lost sight of how far they had come or how they’d grown.  That’s like climbing a mountain without ever stopping to admire the view.

Then it struck me. This team had forgotten to value the process and recognize the progress. The constant emphasis was on “”what’s next.”

That’s an exhausting way to work (or live)! We absolutely must sense our progress. It is to be noted and celebrated and…studied. This is so important because our past achievements light the path for the next success.

If you can relate to this situation, a meeting that can help your team make a needed shift is called “Appreciative Inquiry” and it works like this:

1. Ask your team to think about a time when it overcame an obstacle, seized an opportunity, achieved a goal, or solved a problem.

2. As your team reflects on this achievement, ask questions to draw out the specifics attitudes, skills and behaviors they used to navigate the challenge. For example:What made us so successful in this situation?

  • What challenges did we face?
  • How did we overcome those challenges?
  • What did we learn along the way?
  • What skills did we use?
  • What did we believe about this challenge?
  • How were those beliefs reflected in our behaviors?
  • How did we honor each other through the process?
  • How did we each contribute?
  • How did we grow as individuals and as a team?
  • What did we “add” to ourselves?

3. Capture the answers and insights so they are visible to the group. You are writing a success story here; the authors of that story need to see it clearly!

4. Once you have explored the success thoroughly, ask your team how it can apply these skills, beliefs and behaviors to create a new breakthrough. How can you intentionally use these attributes to navigate the current reality?

This exercise looks for the best in people and processes. It encourages teams (at work and at home) to diagnose success and focus on what works.  In a season of frustration or weariness, Appreciative Inquiry turns the focus from “what is wrong” to “who we are” and “what we can do.”

I used Appreciate Inquiry to draw success out of this struggling team. It was amazing to watch the transformation as they reflected on the history of their own success. It was a David and Goliath moment!

They re-engaged with the mission and each other. They laughed (and cried) as they told the stories. They filled eleven flipchart pages with the attributes and attitudes of success!

It turns out they weren’t dysfunctional after all. They just needed to remember who they were, what they were capable of, and what it felt like to win…again. It was an honor and pleasure to remind them.

If you’ve been following this 3-part series, Meetings That Can Change Everything, you’ve learned that:

1. Victory Meetings help us energize and celebrate. They increase our appetite for winning and give us the opportunity to cheer others on. Victory Meetings encourage the heart, build confidence and renew our strength.

2. Extreme Focus Meetings invite involvement and collaboration. This is important because for people to be authentically engaged, they must be authentically involved. Use Extreme Focus Meetings to develop ownership and commitment, solve problems, and improve processes.

3. Appreciative Inquiry diagnoses our success and teaches us to do more of what works…intentionally. It helps us value the process, recognize the progress and leverage our strengths.

We would love to hear how you apply these meeting tactics with your teams at work and at home. You are invited to share your experiences and successes with the Best Life Design community!

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Leave A Reply (10 comments So Far)

  • Bob Burg

    Yet another amazing article by Dondi with lessons I’ll be taking with me and applying both now and in the future. Really made me stop, think and analyze some things I’d been doing (and thoughts I’d been thinking) that were not productive, and were without awareness. WOW – thank you Dondi. I needed that great lesson!

  • Wise words, Dondi. Bob Burg has brought you into my life – what a blessing!

  • Rob, thank you so much. Bob Burg has introduced me to the most amazing people. Each of those relationships have been beautiful gifts in my life. I am so happy to meet you. 

  • Bob! Such a wonderful compliment. I have learned so much from you, it’s an honor to see you commenting here. 

  • Dondi, what great skills you brought to that meeting. You really do know how to use gathering time to “change everything!” Even as a solo-preneur, I caught myself yesterday completely overwhelmed with “what’s next” instead of being grateful that on day 3 of my Love Summit- lives were being changed and I was right on track. There I was, way too stressed to enjoy the view!
    Thanks for this article – and today I’m spending more time with the kids and grateful that my team and I have the power to move powerfully forward and take wonderful people with us.

  • MAM

    <>  I think you meant to say cliques. Quite a different word from clichés, which I do appreciate your spelling correctly

  • Powerful principles you share here, Dondi, and as I read, I recognized how powerful this process can be when an individual – whether a business owner…or even “simply” a mom or dad…uses it with themselves…as well as with their family or team!  Thanks for sharing!

  • Michelle Bersell

    Thank you Dondi, truly a wonderful process that can utilized in so many areas of life!  I love that instead of fixing you approach was for the team to remember who they were – something we all need to do when we find ourselves off track.  So thankful you shared!

  • Dondi-
    I just had a realization while reading your article. While my team consists of me, a couple of extraordinary virtual assistants (who run their own businesses) and my kids and hubby when they’re around to ask what they think of something… I had a similar experience to the team you described.

    I noticed a couple of years ago I finally started to relax but I wasn’t sure why. Up until that time I’d been totally focused on what’s next, what I needed to get done, what hadn’t been finished and how far behind I felt. That led me to working from early morning through late nights while also raising my two young daughters and running our home in between.

    I was wiped out!

    In reading your article I realized it was when I finally stopped running forward and took a look back that enabled me to say, “Whew! Look at all that I did!” While I didn’t follow your exact steps, I could reflect on my own. I built a successful lifestyle work at home business where I was making money and living the life I wanted as a Mom for my girls. I focused much more on gratitude for what I had accomplished. And started to relax and realize that I’m doing my best,  working hard, and seeing results. And tomorrow is another day.

    Thanks for posting! Great steps for anyone — regardless if their team is one person or many.
    Felicia Slattery

  • Rob, Felicia, Michele, Gina, and Dr. Ben…Thank you for adding to the energy here. LOVE the notion of the “team of one” and families as teams Rob. Absolutely true. Felicia, your story is great confirmation of the process. When we relax and “enjoy the view,” we gather our strength. I have to remind myself to do this frequently. Michelle, I must admit I was searching for clues with this team. If I can resist the “FIX IT” gear and relax in the process myself, teams will generally point us in the direction of their North. I learn the most amazing things from my clients – grateful that they allow me the latitude to discover the route. Gina, I would love to be at the summit. It sounds powerful! I know you are leading these lucky people on an amazing journey – to a new place. 

    Special shout out to MAM…Thank you. Auto correct is sometimes my nemesis. You make me smile. Appreciating your note. 

    These discussions always leave me better. What a great group gathers here. Thank you.