How a troubled team found its Monday morning mojo

V leads product development in a software development company. In one of our coaching sessions she shared that she is noticing a concerning pattern during her Monday morning team meetings.*

Instead of starting the week with energy and enthusiasm, there is an ‘eerie air of despair’ in the room. The dull energy is palpable in the body language of team members – largely avoiding eye contact, fleeting exchange of knowing glances, each waits their turn to speak as they go around the circle, no one bursts to interrupt with a thought or idea. The dead energy drags on through the week…. The pattern goes on for weeks and weeks….

When I asked her to describe what a typical Monday morning meeting looks like she said, “I tend to review commitments made by each in the previous team meeting – are we on track, what do we need to expedite processes and meet the deadline, where do I need to be more hands-on. I get updates, but I rarely get ideas going from these questions – usually the response I get is ‘done’, ‘not done, ‘will try’, ‘will let you know’. And yet things don’t move. At times I have ended the meetings in frustration saying – go figure it out and meet the deadline…”

“I get the sense that everyone is uncomfortable in this meeting but if I ask directly it is interpreted as confrontational and team members get defensive or are in denial. What am I missing here?”, V wondered.

One particular Monday, as the team gathers in the meeting room, V can sense the tension and lack of motivation in the room. The respective team members present their updates on product development, quality check, marketing and launch plans. V responds by saying, “I would like to get your feedback – what am I missing about how we are doing?”

After a steady silence, one team member finally gathers the courage to speak up and elaborates her concerns that product testing is revealing several bugs and she felt pressured to commit to the all-checks-done date, knowing it would be unrealistic. Another member said that she cared a lot about this new product and while there are interdependencies on other members, she feels anxious and a sense of foreboding if anyone gives feedback, even in good faith. For those that were not speaking up, V continued to ask – “ what is bothering you? What could be done better? What perspective are we missing?” By asking these questions V was slowly able to draw out the thoughts and distress on each team members mind – they were facing resistance from each other, no one wanted to be the bearer of bad news, everyone felt responsible yet overwhelmed.

And V soon realised that they were correct – there was no way they could meet the deadline. In that very moment she revealed, “Okay we are going to go back and tell them that we need more time. I am encouraged by your concern for quality and doing this the right way – so I have your back”.

In our coaching session, V recounted how the energy of the meeting shifted when she went in listening with curiosity to understand what was going on in the minds of her team members. She chuckled, “ the Monday morning meetings should have just two agendas – I speak less and listen more, others speak up and make themselves heard, even if it is lone voice”.

V’s approach at the Monday morning meeting is a wonderful example of leaders’ listening with curiosity, rather than listening to defend, or listening to fix. When leaders’ create such habits and rituals in their team meetings -it creates a safe space for the team to share their concerns and ideas without fear of being judged or experiencing retribution or retaliation.

The last update I have from V is that the air of despair at Monday morning meetings has dissipated. She has added a new segment in the meeting called ‘Wins of the Week’ where each team member has to share their achievements, completion of a milestone, or positive feedback from a colleague or client. “While we chasing a big deadline, every win on the way is celebrated – big or small”, is how V says it.

Makes me wonder – what are you noticing in your weekly team meetings – are disagreements invited, are accomplishments (however small) valued, is resilience acknowledged, are negative reports welcome, is optimism nurtured?

(PS: V’s story reminds me of two dimensions in our ‘Thriving Organisations’ framework – Courageous Collaboration and Positivity.  Our research reveals ten dimensions that explain why some organisations are resilient and thrive in complexity, while others flounder. If you are curious to learn more the elements that matter, and assess how your organisation is doing, we would love to chat).  

* Shared with permission.

About Mandira Kala

Mandira is a qualified leadership coach. She is a graduate in Psychology from LSR, New Delhi, MSW from TISS, Mumbai, PhD in Public Policy from University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is passionate about developing leaders who contribute to their workplace by transforming mindsets, creating a culture of cultivating and harnessing people potential, and beating the odds to deliver beyond imagination.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *