Met with a management team to discuss ‘culture transformation.’
“Can you tell me about what prompted you to call me?”
One manager shared, “We have a culture problem. Our competition is moving into our marketplace; our employees are change resistant, and we can’t keep our best people.”
“Can you share an example of when you’ve noticed this?”
Manager, “Last week, I called an emergency meeting of a product development team; we’ve just had two key people leave the team. As they entered the conference room, everyone sat in the same seats they always sat in! The two seats of the people who left were kept empty!! Leaving glaring holes in our team. As you can see, this shows our need for change in our culture.”
Me, “WOW! That’s interesting. What did you do when you noticed?”
Manager, “What did I do? Nothing.”
At this point, some in the room began to see that the culture was not the challenge; the challenge may be the undiscussable behaviors that the managers were observing.
I said, “From our discussion, I’m not sure what you need to do. I do know that team or leadership development is not necessary at this point. I have questions. From our discussion, we may better determine a progress step that may help.”
Organization as a whole
- What is it that you want the organization to do? You mentioned cultural problems, competition worries, change resistance, and people leaving. What does the absence of these challenges look like? How will you know these challenges are absent? How else? How else?
- Where is what you described already happening – even a little bit?
- How did that happen? Who’s a part of those actions?
Teams’ within the organization
- Share with me a team that is doing very well – who is their customer?
- Share with me a team that is not doing well – who is their customer?
- What is the difference between the two teams?
- Give me an example of how a team and people understand what they are doing on the team and how their skills and time fit into the team goal.
People within the organization
- On a scale of 0 – 10, with 10 being the best you hope for and 0 being the opposite, where would you place individual trust in the organization?
- What evidence do you have that keeps you at the number you chose?
- How would +2 on the same scale be different?
- When that happens, what will you notice that is better?
As a leadership team, we spent about 4 hours working through and writing some responses on flip-chart paper. As we talked, some clues (what to look for in seeking ‘a better culture’) become evident. Plus, the management team recognized that they were a part of the organization, actually a larger part than they thought.
We agreed upon some short experiments to try in the next team and staff meetings.
Ultimately, the leadership team did not need formal team building or leadership development. What helped was;
- Listening with curiosity and respect,
- Holding off on trying to sell them my services,
- Working to understand better what they know,
- Framing the complexity of organizations, teams, and people into solution-focused language that respects their knowledge and uses existing resources,
- Ending with a small progress step or clue that the team can complete with little extra effort.
We met again two weeks later. My first question – What is different or better since we last met?
They shared some stories, and we had a similar round of questions.