Vastly improving your leadership team and culture

Many times, when I engage with an owner or CEO of an organization that is contemplating making changes in their culture, one of the things that they ask me is, do we need to have an offsite? Do we need to conduct a culture audit? And do a variety of activities to understand what our culture is today and what it is we want to create tomorrow. The answer sometimes may be yes.

But, even more often, the answer is sitting with that leadership team and taking a look at and just frankly observing how that leadership team is interacting in a regular Monday morning meeting, as an example. And what I often find is that there are one or two people that are behaving in a way that is unhelpful to the overall group getting to an answer. Usually, the CEO or the owner leads that and, in more cases than not, that leader or owner is allowing that behavior to endure. They are rewarding it tacitly by not saying anything about it and not having the straight talk conversation they may need to have with the overall team or with an individual to say, “You know what? There’s an opportunity here for us to more respectfully engage with one another, to create safety in the room, for everyone to speak their mind and do so in a respectful way but also in a way that allows divergent opinions to come out and us to come up with a better answer.”

It doesn’t necessarily require an offsite. Often it’s a matter of setting a standard and setting ground rules for the meetings that we are going to respect one another. We’re going to use straight talk. We’re going to engage and talk about things that previously have been undiscussable. All of that is made up. All of that is invented by us. The notion that something’s undiscussable is only true because we think it’s undiscussable.

That seems a little bit over-simplistic, but the reality is that it happens every single day in our organizations. We know there’s an elephant in the room. It’s standing in the middle of the table. It’s a topic that has just been off-limits. It is Area 51. And we cannot get into it without people being concerned and fearful.

A lot of times the experience isn’t even real. It comes down from a past story, the tribal knowledge that preceded us even being in our positions. And it has the power, because of the culture, because of the stories, because of all the things that ghost stories evoke in us as individuals, of keeping us from actually having the conversations that we need to have.

So, one of the things that I do when I go into an organization is to watch, observe, and then have the straight talk discussion with the owner, the CEO, or whomever the client is, about simple things that can be done in changing our dialogue and changing what we talk about vs. what we don’t talk about and making the undiscussable…discussable. By doing that one thing, 90% of the issues go away, and people can go and solve their problems on their own without going into a long, extended discussion and debate about what’s wrong in our organization and what we need to change.

By stopping, being present, and listening to what’s going on and recognizing, and frankly just admitting, that we’re not talking about the things that we should as a leadership team is a great first step that often ends up with a solution that we can all live with. It often ends up with our culture being improved. It often ends up with our leadership team being stronger and having much more effective meetings than we ever had before.

And it can be done in, literally, the snap of a finger if we decide that that’s what we want to do.