A Personal Experience

Clive here. Every week or so I write a brief blog on the importance of building better relationships in the workplace.

A Personal Experience

During 2006/7, I chaired a government appointed independent panel. Our remit was to produce a report relating to equality and diversity and the cost of underachievement in the UK. I was invited to take part in this project because on my ongoing involvement in charity work. The panel consisted of about 25 people from various professional backgrounds. As you might imagine, it emerged that there were a mix of ideas, opinions and suggestions about the trajectory the group should take. We normally met once a month. At the 9 month halfway stage problems set in.

We had gathered for one of our monthly meetings. However, something was different. The atmosphere had changed. The normal free flowing discussion had somehow dried up. One or two comments started to surface about the direction for the group and the way in which it was working. I said I was sensing that all was not well and would like to discuss why this was. I publicly pushed the meeting agenda to one side whilst saying that we should talk about the mood of the group before continuing.

I asked for comments. Then, for about 2 hours opinions and concerns were aired from around the room. Not all were positive. Some comments were about the way the group were working together, some were about how I was leading the group. There was no holding back. I listened. It was uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.

At the end of the meeting as people were leaving I was surprised by what happened next. Many members of the group came over to me and said things like “best meeting yet Clive” or “we needed that Clive”. I wondered if we had been part of the same meeting. On my way home I thought about what had taken place. It seemed as if I had just had a naked leader experience. I felt like I had taken all my clothes off, stood on a table and invited darts to be thrown at me. Some landed in places I would have preferred they didn’t.

Following this meeting, the project took on new impetus. We surged ahead and met our agreed terms of reference. It was an added bonus that the government accepted 4 of our 5 recommendations.

The learning for me was that the team wanted an opportunity for expression. If discontent is suppressed, it is only likely to get worse. A bit like a champagne bottle, teams sometimes need to have the cork pulled to allow for an overflow before things settle down again. Being a leader isn’t easy. It can be difficult to sit in silence whilst being critiqued. The most effective teams though, are likely to experience many storming moments as their passion for getting the job done spills over. One of the challenges for organisations is to help their leaders get to a place where these types of honest, open discussions can take place. Next time you sense that a team needs to have something similar, encourage it, don’t stifle it. If you’re the leader, let me know how it goes…

Best, Clive Lewis