The 3 N’s – Notice, Name, and Next Steps

How often do you ‘sense’ something is not quite right in a group situation?

It could be that in your weekly Monday morning meeting everyone seems flat, disengaged, or checked out.


Or the cross functional project you have been leading is progressing slower than you planned.

Or perhaps there are factions forming in the department you lead – and underlying tensions are at play.

Fleeting thoughts like these cross our minds every day. But when we are faced with them we often opt to take the path of least resistance. Or choose to ignore them. Or just go with the flow.

Summing the courage, desire and energy to address roadblocks like these can often fall into the ‘too hard basket’.  We can tell ourselves it’s not our responsibility. After all, we may not be the boss or leader.

The thing is, we all have a responsibility.  See here for what I mean. And we all know what happens when these inklings are left unchecked, or when issues and problems are left unresolved. At best, we are left with unrealised potential. At worst, it can end in disaster.

So, there’s a little thing I have been experimenting with and I think it’s got some legs. It’s a technique for when things are going wrong in a team or group setting.

It’s nothing mind-blowing or innovative, but when practiced I have found it has often unveiled a way forward.

I call it The Three N’s – Notice, Name and Next steps.

1.      Notice.  Stop and consciously reflect when you catch these fleeting thoughts. Ask yourself:-

–        what is it I am 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 twang 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, then notice next time the group comes together.

Sometimes our gut instinct can give us the signals we need to stop and listen to. Recognising something is not as it should be is the first step.

2.      Name. The second step is to ‘name it’ with the group. This takes courage but the trick is to tentatively ‘check it out’, without jumping into problem solving mode or being absolute in your convictions. This is 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 for some reason I’m sensing 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 ourselves, and no one else may share your sentiments. But still do it, because if that’s the case, then you can practice a bit of self-reflection and work out why you have the sentiments you are experiencing.

At this stage (or any stage for that matter), realise it is not necessarily up to you to solve it all on your own. Often leaders slip up because we think we have got to come up with all the solutions ourselves.

Once you have all had the chance to discuss and explore the potential issues, you can then take the final step – the “so what?” and “so what’s next?” stage.

3.      Next Steps. This is usually the step we feel most comfortable with as it implies action, but beware the trap of moving too quickly into this phase before the real issues have been identified and everyone has had a chance to contribute.  Or worse, not moving into it at all and just ending up with a ‘talk fest’.

Models like the GROW or Egan coaching model can help. Even brainstorming with action points can stimulate solutions to move forward and solve the problems.

Using a simple technique like The Three N’s can enable you to take action when things are not working in groups, instead of being a frustrated passenger.

It helps us to move from blame to empowerment, and in doing so, we become a better leader.

P.S. Let me know if it works for you – or if you have any other helpful tips that might work in this situation.


  1. […] Notice the energy. What’s not being said? Be brave at naming and checking out what you see with the group.  If you sense everyone is losing interest, or is in disagreement, […]

  2. andrea bruce on November 12, 2013 at 4:32 am

    Great read! Thanks Suzi!

    • The Leader's Digest on November 12, 2013 at 6:15 am

      Hi Andrea,

      Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for your feedback 🙂


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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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