Getting Your Team Back on Track

November 15, 2018 3:22 pm

It’s no surprise that teams occasionally lose track of the bigger picture and can lose focus and become unproductive, losing sight as to what they are working towards. As the facilitator, what could you do to get the team back on track? I suggest the following four-step approach to refocus the team and renew commitment to the basics of purpose and process:

  1. Overview the team’s meeting parameters
  2. Ratify the parameters
  3. Set Norms
  4. Referee the Norms

1. Overview of the Team’s Meeting Parameters

The first thing to do is to shift gears. Stop any discussions around decisions and focus on the bigger picture. Start with an exercise that helps the team align on purpose, focusing on why the team has been brought together in the first place. This should be done through a debrief by you or the team lead outlining the team’s operating parameters. These parameters could include:

  • The rationale/reason the team was put together and respective expectations
  • How often the team is to meet and for how long
  • What the standard meeting process will generally entail (i.e. we’ll start with a basic warm-up, followed by status updates on previous actions, followed by presentation of current recommendations, followed by an analysis and modifications discussion, etc.)
  • Who will be doing what during the meeting (i.e. the roles including: facilitator, timekeeper, minutes taker.) The timekeeper is necessary to ensure agenda item discussions don’t go overtime and to create a sense of urgency for completing items within the given time limits.
  • Decision-making authority of the team: the team needs to be clear on their level of empowerment to make decisions. Under which circumstances does the team have full authority to make decisions versus recommendations? Also it’s important to determine under what circumstances consensus versus a majority vote is required. 

2. Ratify the Parameters

Once the parameters have been identified and discussed, test for buy-in. Divide the team into pairs and have the pairs discuss:

  1. What parameters are we in agreement with?
  2. What parameters are not in agreement with?
  3. For those we’re not in agreement with, what can we change/do to move towards agreement?

The results of the partner discussions should be debriefed as a whole team and results should be captured on a flipchart. Any ‘solutions’ identified must be implemented and/or negotiated and action planned. This type of meeting intervention typically reaffirms the team’s degree of commitment to and understanding of their mandate, therefore follow-through on identified concerns and resulting solutions is a must!

3. Set the Norms

Following the buy-in discussion, what usually follows is setting some norms or ‘rules of engagement’ for how the team wants to act with one another. This exercise will probably address a few solutions identified in the last discussion as well as provide you and the team with some guidelines for participation, managing conflict, idea sharing, etc. It’s wise to start with some ‘targeted’ norms focusing on an identified concern.  For example, if the team wants to increase collaboration, the ‘targeted’ or specific question could be: what rules do we need to put in place to ensure we maximize collaboration? Other examples include the need to address people dominating conversations or cliques forming. Once these guidelines or rules are stated they need to be posted at every meeting and quickly reviewed for modification or additions.

4. Referee the Norms

As the facilitator, you can use the team generated norms to manage conflict or poor participation. When an individual or team breaks its own rules, pose the following observation followed by a question:

“I’m noticing that some of our rules, particularly the one about (e.g. everyone gets to participate equally) is not being followed. What would you (the team) suggest we do to get back on track?”

Should the behavior continue, it’s appropriate to be more directive by saying:

“I noticed that some people in the team are not following the rule regarding equal participation, therefore I’m going to suggest that for the remainder of this discussion we go round-robin to ensure each person has a turn giving their opinion.”

The second, more ‘directive’ technique is used only when the behaviors in the team are repetitive and affecting morale and/or productivity. Believe me, the team will be very happy that someone is finally doing something!

Remember, ‘be gentle on personalities, but tough on keeping people on-track!’

Michael Goldman

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