Sage Advice: Turn Around Partnering

What are some steps you take to right the ship when things have gone south for a team?

Larry Anderson, MIPI, Anderson Partnering

One of the first indications that things are about to go south is what you’re starting to see in the scorecards—whether it’s in the numerical ratings or in the comments.  I think about those as I prepare to facilitate the meeting.  In a follow-up meeting I try to reserve 5 or 10 minutes for myself to share some kind of a nugget with the team and do a little coaching, a little teaching. I will tailor my choice of a nugget to whatever it is they seem to be struggling with at the time.

When a group is struggling I go back to Facilitator 101 and ask myself, “What have I done lately as far as reminding them about their ground rules?” It’s sort of a revisiting of “How are we going to behave towards each other in the course of these meetings?” And if I haven’t established the ground rules firmly in the beginning, well shame on me. But I need to remind them or initiate them. Getting the ground rules of the behavioral norms firmly in front of people can be a helpful contribution.

Cinda Bond, MIPI, OrgMetrics

One of my big secrets on turn arounds is getting the executive team together. I do one-on-one calls with everyone in advance, asking questions and forcing them to consider the other position, or playing devils’ advocate.

And one of the secrets I would say, I came about by accident, in two different situations when I had turn around meetings with the executives. In both cases we were unable to get conventional meeting rooms. One we had to hold in the living room of one of the Partners because he had surgery and hadn’t been released for work so we just went to his house. And in another case the conference rooms weren’t available at the hotel, and so we took this unconventional room. We had this meeting on couches, and that changed the entire dynamic. People had to sit on couches with their knees kind of touching and they didn’t have a table between them. I highly recommend the couch approach because it just forces a different dynamic and energy.

Eric Sanderson

Eric Sanderson, MIPI, Red Rocks Advisors

With the projects that are already struggling, where I get asked to be brought in, I’m usually pretty practical. I do individual phone calls in advance, of course. Primarily, I won’t do a full session, I’d get only with the executives, and then I get a little bit directive: “Alright, here’s what we’re dealing with, and here’s the positions. I will facilitate dialogue around this, but if you don’t get it done here you know where it’s going.” To some extent–they need that. You step away from the attitude of “Hey this is great and we’re going to try to get together and resolve this” and much more towards “Fix it or you’re in a really bad spot.” They appreciate the candor and the reality of the feedback and it challenges them to step up and come to a resolution that makes sense.

On Projects where I am engaged in upfront, the first step is with the executives to find out at what level the disagreement is occurring. Is it occurring at the project management level or the next level down?  Is it occurring at the executive level? But regardless, I keep those groups pretty tight and very small, because I want to let them save face and find the way they need to come out of that environment and then direct their teams to engage in the appropriate manner. It depends also on the level of the nature of the disagreement. Some of them are a technical in nature--it’s a change order, perhaps. Some disagreements where they may fall apart are based on an interpretation of contract requirements. And the last area just has to do with culture and personality. A lot of times it’s nothing more than a personality disagreement, so I explore and have them contemplate where the disagreement is coming from and why they’re getting South.

Leonard Steinberg, Creative Alliance

Although things may have gone south, there is still opportunity to help right that ship.  Here is couple of steps that I have found to be helpful:

  • Be honest – if you sense there are issues bringing the team down, be upfront and identify what you are seeing. Be specific if possible.
  • Get acknowledgement from all stakeholders/workshop participants that things have gone south – buy in is critical. You can’t develop solutions if everyone doesn’t agree there are problems.
  • Explain this is not about pointing fingers, but looking at the situation we are in, understanding how we got here and co-developing a path forward.
  • Review each other’s expectations – does everyone agree? Are they on the same page?
  • Work with the team to eliminate the sense of taking issues personally. When issues become personal, there is a greater propensity for finger pointing and the blame game.
  • Don’t focus on fault, focus on solutions. Issues are NOT always “somebody’s fault”.  Construction is full of unknowns.  I realize that sounds simple but it can be a difficult concept to grasp when the team is spiraling in the wrong direction.
  • Stop the spiral – develop action plans to start moving the project team forward. Small, easily accomplishable steps to help start the team checking off successes.