One of the biggest barriers to team performance is noticing something is awry, yet not doing anything about it.
It could be at one of your weekly Monday morning meetings, where it’s obvious everyone’s more interested in what’s for lunch than the matter at hand.
Maybe it’s the lengthy project that’s tanking, thanks to a team who struggles to show any enthusiasm. All the while, you have no direct authority but all the accountability.
Or perhaps there are emerging factions in the department you lead, causing subtle but impactful tensions and roadblocks in the office. You’re all too aware of it, but you can’t figure out how to address it.
I get it. The path of least resistance is the easier road to take when it comes to conflicts. It’s tempting to ignore that gut feeling that things aren’t progressing the way they should. Going with the flow, sticking to your lane, ignoring what you know you shouldn’t – totally understandable. I’ve been guilty of the ‘head in the sand’ tactic plenty of times.
But we all know what happens when we all notice, but do nothing. Nothing good, that’s for sure! At best, we are left with unrealised potential. At worst, it can spell disaster for your team or the project.
The trick is to know how to tackle issues when you notice them. If you’re the leader in any of these situations, it’s your job to have the courage to peek under the bonnet and take a closer look. Even when you’re not the leader, it might fall on you regardless.
There’s a little model I’ve developed to help you with these sorts of situations – when you sense things are awry, but you need to investigate further before jumping to solutions. The feedback from teams using it has been positive. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it gives you a path forward to have the right conversations.
It’s called The Three N’s – Notice, Name and Next steps.
- Notice. Be aware of those fleeting thoughts when you notice them, especially when it comes to a pattern. Ask yourself:
- What am I sensing here?
- How often am I noticing this?
- How long has it been going on and in what situations?
Often, it’s just a feeling in the back of our mind or a slight inkling of frustration. By taking this considered, mindful step, we can put what we are detecting into specific words or metaphors. If you’re not sure, decide to just put it on your radar to gather more information.
- Name. The second step is to ‘name it’ with the group. This takes courage, but the trick is to tentatively ‘check it out’. This is without jumping into problem solving mode or being absolute in your convictions. It might be simply a case of raising awareness and obtaining feedback from the group. Chances are, you won’t be the only one thinking it.
The following approaches may give you some ideas:
- “I’ve been thinking about our meeting and I’m wondering about the level of engagement…”
- “We are mid-way through this project, and I think it’s not tracking as well as it should, what do you guys think…?”
- “I’m picking up that the team seems a bit low after last month’s result… and I wanted to check my assumption…?”
You get the drift.
Caveat: Be prepared to be wrong. Sometimes what we are recognising has more to do with our own perspective and may not be what others are experiencing. Others may not share your sentiment. But still do it, because if that’s the case, then this is useful information too. You can then reflect on why you’re having a different experience.
At this stage (or at any stage for that matter), realise it’s not necessarily up to you to solve it all on your own. Leaders slip up when they think they have to come up with all the solutions solo.
Once you have all had the chance to discuss and explore the potential issues, you can then take the final step – the “so what next?” stage.
- Next steps. This is usually the step we feel most comfortable with, because it implies action, but beware of the trap of moving too quickly before the real issues have been identified. This means ensuring everyone has had a chance to contribute. Also beware of the opposite trap of not doing “next steps” step at all – instead delivering a ‘talk fest’, with no solution in sight.
Concepts like the GROW model can help. Even brainstorming with action points can stimulate solutions and help solve the problems.
Useful models like this one can be found in The Leader’s Map, my new online accelerator programme for emerging leaders. Keen to discover more? Check it out here.
Using a simple technique like The Three N’s can enable you to take control when things are not working in groups, instead of being a frustrated passenger. It helps us to move from inaction to empowerment, and in doing so, we help the team performance to flourish, not flop.
Let me know if it works for you – or if you have any other helpful tips that might work in this situation. And don’t forget to take a look at The Leader’s Map.