Work conversations. You know how some days it just feels right? Everyone is actually communicating with each other, there’s real cooperation and work is cranking along. But then, something snaps and disrupts the productive vibe. As quick as an overnight cold front, conversations get frosty and projects freeze. How did chummy chats turn into drama and what can you do to get things back on track?
We asked three business professionals to share their tips and stories for keeping workplace conversations productive and what to do if they go awry. Here’s what they had to say.
Tip #1: Hold Regular “Recent Wins Meetings”
Great teamwork first requires building relationships, trust and processes. Jason believes that the key to maintaining productive team conversations is one simple idea: make time for the positive.
“Schedule a regular 30-minute “Recent Wins Meeting” with your team in which you share three to five positive experiences you remember from a past project you completed together. Don’t look back, point fingers and accuse people of not doing their best. Don’t bring up failures or mistakes and don’t blame others for any lack of success. There is a time and a need for the kind of meeting where you discuss “lessons learned,” but this is not one of those meetings.
In a “Recent Wins Meeting” make sure to answer this question: "What do our wins reveal about how we work together?”
The benefits of this kind of meeting are threefold:
-Encourages the free flow of honest and unfiltered feedback about how you work well together
- Creates a safe environment to celebrate progress
- Improves systems. As you hear about what worked in the past, look for ways to use that information on the next project you’re managing.
If you say to yourself, "we don't have time for these kinds of ‘feel-good’ meetings,” then you probably want to prepare yourself. Over the next year, observe what happens to the way that the team works together when the positive reinforcement is few and far between.”
Tip #2: Establish Common Ground
Leslie Feldman, Principal at Associates & Feldman
Bay Area, CA
A productive employee should find common ground with project team members by discussing key criteria together before embarking on a new project. Leslie finds this to be a great way to keep conversations from going off the rails.
“In the process of writing my company’s annual report I periodically met with our CEO to review drafts. In one particular meeting she pointed out something I’d written that she said was inaccurate. I got defensive and immediately showed her the source of my findings, the transcript from a speech she’d given months earlier. I hadn’t thought to ask her if I could quote it prior to writing the report. After going back and forth on the issue for a bit, I realized that continuing to justify myself was sending us both down a pointless path. I decided to adjust my approach by asking her to first look for the information in the report that she agreed should remain. After we established that common ground, things got easier. In the end we realized that my report had been 95% there with the exception of a few semantic differences.”
Tip #3: Create Joint-Ownership Committees
Successful leaders know the value of teaming up for the greater good of the company and know how to accept joint-ownership over outcomes. Paul finds these lessons to be essential to avoiding cross-departmental misunderstandings.
“A sales director might wonder if the leads the marketing team shares with him are really as good as they say they are. And a marketing director might be concerned with whether the sales team is really following up on every lead she qualifies for them. Finger pointing in both directions, with departments trying to meet the same lead and revenue goals, causes a tremendous amount of friction. These departments, for example, could work together to create joint-ownership subcommittees that decide how to define a qualified lead and how to jointly own the leads. A sales development group and a funnel operations group, each made up of members of the company’s marketing and sales departments, are two examples. These cross-departmental committees can also remove communication barriers by using team chat apps.”
How about you?
Ever had conversations on your team take a turn for the worse? What happened and what did you do to get things back on a productive track? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments.