I often work with leaders who wish that their team members would contribute more during team meetings. Sitting in on some of those meetings, the lack of sufficient contribution is clearly apparent – so I can see that these leaders’ concerns are not unfounded.
But, observing these same teams in meetings where the leader isn’t present – even if he or she has just nipped our for a few minutes – the problem magically disappears, with animated discussion and debate taking its place. In my experience, this dichotomy of leader present = strained interaction versus leader away = animated conversation is found just as much at Boardroom level as with front-line teams.
It seems that, just by being present, leaders get in their team’s way. And this doesn’t apply to just meetings. I had a personal experience last week that brought this home to me.
I was working with four members of the CommsMasters facilitator team; we were delivering several consecutive workshop sessions, with each of us involved with our own group. Each member of the team is an experienced and mature individual. They have worked together on previous programmes, and know each other well. In team discussions about the client work we are involved in, everyone speaks up – no-one is shy, shrinking or a violet. Our interactions are highly collegiate and collaborative – there’s no sense of hierarchy... or so I thought!
Early on in last week’s workshop delivery schedule, I had the unpleasant and embarrassing experience of passing out, banging my head hard while delivering the actual session and being taken to hospital by ambulance (drama queen or what?). I was subsequently off work for a few days, and there were several more workshops to run. Of course, the workshop delivery had to go ahead – and naturally the experienced delivery team made sure that it did. The client’s feedback was that the programme continuation was ‘seamless’. None of that surprised me – we’re a professional outfit and we’re prepared to handle ups and downs (in my case literally).
What did catch my attention was that the facilitator team said that having me out of the way let them be a better team. They communicated more effectively with each other – even though communication was already relatively free and easy, there was of course a different dynamic with ‘the boss’ out of the way. This is the same contrasting dynamic that occurs in team meetings when the leader leaves the room. It’s the same dynamic that takes place between siblings when mum and dad are present – or not present. Or in the classroom when the teacher’s there – or not.
This dichotomy is one that it's almost politically incorrect to mention nowadays and yet it’s part of the subtext of all human interaction. It’s the awareness of who holds power in any given situation – even when power differentials are very slim or appear non-existent. Even the most egalitarian of leaders need to be aware of this and recognise that sometimes the best thing they can do to build better team communication is quite simple – just make themselves scarce!
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net