I want to propose a daft idea. Next time you’re having a meeting that gets through its scheduled business ten minutes early, don’t say: “Great, we can all have ten minutes back in our calendars.” (Everyone cheers). Instead, say: “We’ve got ten minutes left, what else is on your minds?”
Then shut up and listen. There’s a large body of research that shows teams and organisations where people feel free to speak up, share ideas, challenge the existing wisdom, are the most successful. So if that’s what happens in your liberated ten minutes, fantastic. If you’re listening to deafening silence, ask yourself why that is, and what you might be losing as a consequence. Perhaps it’s so out of the ordinary, nobody knows where to start. Maybe everyone is so pressed for time they can’t even face ten minutes of freeform conversation without getting anxious about the unfinished to do list. There may be teams (not yours, obviously) where people are scared they’ll get criticised, patronised or ignored. (Actually let’s call those groups, because they’re not operating as a team.)
To make these open conversations more likely, here are some things to try:
- Ensure that your agenda won’t fill the whole time slot, and manage the ending.
- Seed a thought by collaborating with someone you know will have the confidence to speak.
- Throw in an idea or puzzle yourself, but confess yourself stumped and needing help.
- If someone does raise a problem, listen to your own response. If you want to build that safe environment, “We haven’t got time to talk about that now,” becomes “Let’s make some time to discuss that in more depth to try to find a way forward.”
We train leaders in communication skills, but how many of them are about transmitting, being influential with a persuasive narrative? We also touch on managers’ listening skill in 1:1 conversations. But how much time do we really spend on developing profound organisational listening? That starts with leaders and managers providing genuinely safe and trusting environments to talk. They also need to follow through on anything they undertake to do as a result.
Oh, and if you all need to rush off because your meetings are back-to-back, maybe put some thought into your scheduling habits.
But do make sure you listen.
Learning and Organisational Development Manager, Workforce Development Team, Department of Human Resources