The quarterly leadership team meeting had started like any other. I (Rip) was facilitating, and had opened the floor so that the team members could share good news, either personal or professional, to help them connect with one another. When we got to the newest member of the leadership team, however, things took an unexpected turn.
He said, “I’m going to break the rules today; I’m not going to share good news. I’m going to read a statement, because I am not sure I can say what I need to say otherwise.” His nervousness was palpable. Clearing his throat self-consciously, he proceeded to read a statement expressing his concern that the members of the leadership team were not living into the company’s core values consistently when it came to customer service requests. He provided specific examples where inquiries from customers had been handled in ways that were inappropriate in light of the company stated values.
When he finished, he put the paper down and I thanked him for his willingness to raise the issue. This was the crucial moment. How would the team respond? Would they become defensive? Would angry words begin to fly? Would his concerns be dismissed out of hand? Would they pretend to care but make no effort at effecting change? Or, would they take the matter seriously?
What happened next speaks volumes about the health of this team. The president of the company spoke first and affirmed the team member as a person. He stated, “I’ve got to believe that was not easy for you to bring up. I appreciate the courage and conviction it took to lay it all out for us.” This communicated clearly to all the team members (not just the person who spoke) that meetings were safe places where all feedback – positive or negative – would be welcomed and respected.
The president then placed the issue on the agenda for that very day. There were no vague comments made such as “we should talk about that sometime” or “let’s chat offline” or “that is an interesting viewpoint.” The importance of the matter was underscored by immediate action. The rest of the leadership team concurred and voiced their agreement.
When the matter was raised for discussion later in the day, the leadership team considered the issue with an open mind. They did not fall back on denial or give excuses or justifications for their behaviors. Rather, they realized that they had to take a step back and seriously reexamine how they were acting and what decisions they were making. The president summed up the position when he said, “We are not walking the talk with regard to customer service. That has to change.”
I then helped the team decide on a set of actions to bring their behaviors in line with their core values. We kept the list short – just five action items. As with SMART goal setting, we made sure these action items were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. There was to be no ambiguity here: the team wanted to make change happen.
In every case, individual team members took ownership of actions to ensure implementation. Each month, they would report back to the leadership team on how they were doing and what results they were seeing. Progress would therefore be evident to the entire team.
At the close of the discussion, I turned to the team member who had initially raised the issue and asked if the team had addressed his concerns. He confirmed that it did and expressed his gratitude that everyone had listened with such respect. The president then said, “You have given us a gift. You opened our eyes to something we did not see.”
This leadership team demonstrated the best that a team can be. They have created a place of mutual trust where all team members feel safe and respected. They are able to discuss even challenging issues openly and decide on courses of action to drive their business forward. Above all, they have proven that their core values really matter and that they will do what they need to do to live into them – for the good of their team, for the good of their company, and for the good of their customers. Teams truly do not get better than this!