Think about the biggest dilemma you’re currently facing in your business.
What would it be like to gather your team and “think together” about the problem in such a way that new ideas emerge? What would it be like to gain new insight from your team’s collective wisdom and have the dilemma you’ve been noodling on and wringing your hands over evolve into a vision, a path, and a first step by the end of the conversation?
This is the best of what teamwork has to offer.
And yet, we often take team meetings for granted. We assume we can just walk into a room, start up a meeting, and get to the desired outcome quickly and efficiently. We rarely give any thought to what actually makes meetings — and, more importantly, the conversations that happen in meetings — productive, meaningful and generative. But when leaders understand how to create the space for real, collaborative engagement, people do more than just show up for a meeting. They come ready to participate and contribute. Moreover, they buy into the outcomes and decisions. They may not agree or love a meeting’s outcome, but they can agree to live with and support it because they understand the process of how the decision was made.
In short, the best way to cultivate the teamwork that you need in your business is to change the way you meet with your team. How you think is how you lead, and how you lead determines what your team can achieve. It starts with you, and it starts with the mindset and skills of facilitation.
Here are five guiding principles to keep in mind when leading your next meeting to harness the power of collective thinking and collaboration:
Principle 1: Maintain Neutrality
Be intentional about the desired outcome and purpose of your meeting. Be clear about framing the topic (or dilemma) and guiding questions, and then be neutral about the content. This is about “leading from behind.” As a facilitator, you own the process of the meeting while letting the team own the content of the conversation.
This is how you let your team’s imagination take over and get creative!
Principle 2: Stand in the Storm
Creating space for new insights from your team requires new thinking. Your job is to welcome this new thinking, even if it feels a bit stormy in the moment. Welcome different points of view and perspectives without taking sides and, if you’re not already hearing it, find a way to welcome difference of opinion into the conversation. Learn to stay with conflict rather than deflecting, changing the subject, or moving on to something new.
Teams don’t naturally want to stay in conflict; they have patterns of avoiding it, often at all costs. But this is where the good stuff happens.
Principle 3: Honor the Wisdom of the Group
Trust. Trust that the team has the wisdom and everything else it needs to solve its own problems creatively and innovatively. When you trust in your team’s collective wisdom, there’s a sense of inclusiveness, less need to control what people say, and less fear that someone will “derail” the thinking.
The diversity of perspectives represented by different voices on your team will enable the group to innovate and move forward.
Principle 4: Hold the Group’s Agenda
When facilitating meetings, be mindful of serving your team’s emergent agenda. If you feel resistance from the team about a decision or strong reluctance to move forward to another agenda item, you might be encountering the team’s “emergent agenda” — what’s happening for the team in the moment. It might be a topic that’s difficult to discuss but needs to be talked about in order for the team to move forward, or it might have more to do with the team’s dynamic than it does the topic at hand.
When the group’s emergent agenda appears in your meeting, it’s time to focus on what would serve the team in the long run, not what you want to accomplish in that moment. It’s about continually asking, “How can I best serve the group?” and “What does this group really need right now?”
Principle 5: Be Future Focused
To get the most out of your meetings, have a plan that includes questions designed to prompt the team to think about the future — to think beyond the current dilemma to imagine what’s possible.
After all, isn’t this the ultimate promise of having a team in the first place?