Winston Churchill stated ‘Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war’

This great leader understood that people can be influenced in two ways: either their minds have been opened or their heart broken. Opening minds requires talk, exchange of views and reflection. The ‘fear’ alternative of forcing conformity through hierarchies is in the long term destructive.

As a leader, what’s your style? Jaw Jaw or War War?

In today’s world this is a serious issue, as business leaders struggle to keep up with the technology whirlwind that is engulfing every aspect of our lives. Leaders need to figure out how they adapt to the changing environment around them and in particular how their organisations and people can evolve.  Traditionalists tell their people they must change, offering incentives, assuming that people know exactly what is expected of them. Most people recognise that in world of the millennial and the internet, this approach is becoming less effective. Human beings are a contrary lot and cannot be told how to THINK. But how they THINK can be influenced by what we SAY and what we DO.

As Churchill knew, the way to change is to talk without fear of conflict.  In our own experience as business leaders, we have always placed a strong focus on communication, and in partiular on meeting our people eye-ball to eye-ball. In hindsight the easy part is to meet, but how to turn this into true engagement?

In management speak, leaders turn to techniques such as ‘Off-Site’ meetings, ‘work shops’ or 1 on 1’s.  However, having worked as business leaders ourselves and now providing expert support to others, it is clear that to be successful, leaders must transfer control and responsibility to the team to find the solution for themselves.  Bluntly put, it means stop using PowerPoint material and similar to control direction (& remember details) and instead, start to think on your feet to develop free flowing yet structured debates. This is an approach many business leaders do not feel comfortable with, but it is critical if you want to engage people to change.

We call this slightly chaotic yet structured approach to group problem solving the ‘Service Boot Camp’. It is where a cross section of different individuals come together as a team to solve complex problems where the solution is not clear to all. It’s not meant to be a comfortable cosy environment, but one where everyone is challenged to find solutions under time pressure.

But how to achieve this outcome? There are at least five key areas to focus on:

  1. Problem Definition and Outcomes: It may sound an obvious starting point, but clearly defining the problem, the business context and the expected outcome, is key to bringing smart people together to solve problems. In our experience don’t be afraid to take your time in this process, as it is the start of aligning your teams thinking and language behind a common challenge.  Be very grounded in your approach so people find it relevant to their roles. A good way to think about the context is to define what is working in the business, and then what is not working. Break the problem into 4-5 related discussions about real tangible issues your team faces. In our experiences, the more tangible you make the discussion through use cases and everyday examples, the more you will channel the energy of your team towards the outcome you desire.
  2. Generate Energy and Curiosity: This is where preparation really pays off. From the way you prime and prepare the participants, to the environment in which you work, all will help you engage interest and action. Most important is to remember that energy comes from people who talk and are active in the debate. Avoid lengthy detailed power-points, in fact try to do without. Not using supporting material requires far more detailed preparation, but the result is an environment where the conversation, discussion and decision making, seem to effortlessly move towards your objectives.
  3. Debate and Create: It’s when people are talking that they can create solutions together. Plan out the types of discussions and debate, which will move the participants towards your goal. Create opportunities where people can engage with each other. Bring in external perspectives to challenge thinking and the current paradigm. Invite input from customers or suppliers to build focus and urgency. Above all do not be afraid to alter the agenda as you move through the process. As long as you have a very clear view on the outcomes you expect, you can flex the conversation to suit the circumstances and the energy of the participants.
  4. Create Allies: It’s important to remember that building relationships will magnify the leaders impact on the business. Avoid the ‘yes, but’ syndrome and emphasise the positive. It is the alliances and relationships that are built that are critical to your success. No one person can change an organisation. Getting to the key influencers through creating a critical mass of thinking is vital.
  5. Articulate Results: Great conversation will come to little, unless it is captured and channelled into actions. It is extremely powerful when the participants articulate the outcomes and present to senior management team. This brings focus to the collaboration, as well as a bit of edge to your event.

So if you would like to know more about Si2 Service Boot Camp and how it can help you align your team during change, then please contact Nick Frank at nick.frank@si2partners.com.

This article was first published in Field Service News in September 2017