Crystallize Your Mission: 2 Questions to Engage Your Team

MissionAt your next staff meeting, have one slide displayed for everyone to see: A copy of the company’s mission statement. Use no other slides—no 20-page handout—no prepared script. Simply welcome your team, point to the slide, and just stand there quietly. Don’t say a word. Wander slowly and deliberately throughout the room. Take your time. (Five minutes will be quite sufficient – it’ll seem interminable).

Expect some snickers, a lot of side glances and whispers, as people wonder what you are doing. But stick with it! Just wander around, keeping your eyes on the Mission.

When you feel enough time has elapsed for people to move from the questioning, through the whispering, and to the review of the Mission, it’s time to address your captive audience with an air of humility, sincerity, and concern tinted with an obvious bias for action. Ask the following two questions in the order we suggest, as passionately and arrestingly as you can:

1. What are we doing that gets in the way of achieving that goal?

2. What am I doing that gets in the way?

Stand there quietly and wait for the first glimmerings of the team’s reaction. You may not have to wait long. (On the other hand, you may have to wait’em out). Devote as much time as it takes to field their responses. Record everything that is said. Use a red marker to record the team’s input for emphasis. They’ll probably draw blood. (We referred to humility earlier).

Exercise humility now; delegate the task of recording what is said to no one! Record every word, each assault, every indictment and innuendo, each shot or salvo leveled by the team, at the team, or directed at you.

Say nothing during the onslaught, except words of encouragement. Even if the silence between barrages becomes deafening, remain poised and quiet, ready to field more fuel to the fire.

Does this process seem dramatic? You betcha!

Will the team wonder what’s up? Probably!

Will they begin to see where you’re headed? Most definitely!

Consider the alternative. Does it make good business sense to continue operating in full knowledge (or at least suspecting) that team members are rowing in different directions or that the team is confusing activity with accomplishment?

Once you’re comfortable with the collective input, once you’ve sensed team catharsis, and after you believe you’ve heard from everyone – thank the team sincerely. Then ask for two to three volunteers to join you in addressing each item drawn in ‘blood’ (red marker).

Promise to clean up your act first, then tackle the team’s shortcomings. Disregard those items where the team pointed fingers at sabotage artists outside the group. Let the team own their own mistakes and shortcomings.

TakeActionPromise quick and decisive remedial action on two to three items by the close of business that day, if possible. (We have seen incredible results, like the time a long-standing issue of no hot water in the work area was fixed while the meeting was still in session!) Launch a full-blown remedial campaign to eliminate the rest of the mission-stoppers. Resolve to make this a team effort. Demonstrate your unmitigated support. Conduct ‘how are we doing’ sessions. Allow your team to lead these sessions. Demand course-correction results. Hold these sessions regularly until the way you do business is in direct alignment with the mission statement.

It is extremely important that you show your unfailing visible support.

If handled right this can be a galvanizing event. This one simple demonstration, this snapshot of your company’s mission statement, is not just worth a thousand words, but more like a million.

How Does Research Support This?

Research IconBy the way, recent research on team effectiveness supports face-to-face work improvement sessions. There really are benefits to sizing up teammates face-to-face. Organizations that once relied solely on distributed teams have found that it is well worth the time and expense to get members together to solve organizational concerns. (Hackman, 2011).

Research support: Hackman, Richard, Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, CA., 2011.
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About Cher & Bil Holton

Since 1984, Cher & Bil Holton have been co-owners of The Holton Consulting Group, Inc., helping corporate and association clients enhance bottom-line results using cutting edge employee engagement. Their keynote speeches, turbo-training, and coaching sessions are practical, grounded in research, and lots of fun to boot! They are prolific authors, and take "Indiana Jones" vacations to continually stretch their limits!
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2 Responses to Crystallize Your Mission: 2 Questions to Engage Your Team

  1. Thanks for your comment, Petteri. Yes, it could be perceived as a negative question — the goal is to focus in on how we might be blocking our own success, even unintentionally. We’ve seen teams who consistently look at what they can do to achieve a mission or vision, come up with great ideas, and then do nothing! In fact, the behavior demonstrated can often be diabolically opposed to the words written in the vision and mission. The particular exercise is designed to look at behaviors that could be at odds with what we are trying to achieve. Your question would be a great follow-up: What can we do to change this behavior into one that supports our vision/mission? What would it take on each person’s part to see this vision/mission become a reality?
    We really appreciate your insight!

  2. This approach seems a bit negative even judgemental. “What are we doing that gets in the way of…” The danger is people are going to be defensive rather than inspired. How bout asking “What can we do to…” -type of question instead?

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