Business leaders: save time and headspace by doing one simple thing
Call in reinforcements to get you out of the woods.
Teams often expect their leaders to do it all: lead with clarity, neutralize politics, have all the answers, and know where the team is going and how to get there. While these are certainly markers of a good leader, it doesn’t mean that one person needs to possess all of these characteristics to be successful. In fact, most good leaders almost never do.
In my line of work, when teams are stuck in the weeds it’s usually not because any one person failed to do their job, or because the group isn’t capable. It’s simply because the team doesn’t have the right tools to unlock the answers. And why should they? Most people aren’t trained as facilitators on top of being CEOs / designers / product managers / customer experience specialists / etc.
This is why it’s so critical to bring in reinforcements when you’re having trouble accelerating a project or idea. Still not convinced? Here’s the bottom line:
Leading and facilitating are not the same thing
Sometimes — and with the best intentions — titles in leadership operate from a performance mindset, meaning that information and POVs communicated usually end up coming across as facts or concrete directions. Key decision makers also have a different level of authority which naturally impacts power dynamics.
The consequences? Participants don’t feel as comfortable expressing their own opinions or challenging the directive (who wants to dissent from the boss?!). And when your team doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up you miss out on new ideas and possibilities that could push your business forward.
A trained facilitator knows how to level the playing field so all voices and decisions are weighted equally, which requires a deep bench of tools and methods. They also make sure everyone feels comfortable contributing (because that’s when the best ideas come forward!).
You deserve an unbiased guide
When your team is too close to the project or problem, it’s extremely difficult to get out of the weeds without an unbiased guide. That might mean bringing in a consultant with cross-industry perspective, or someone trained in facilitation from elsewhere in the org. In fact, when I lead trainings for internal groups learning to cultivate their facilitation skills, I often recommend that they serve across teams in order to bring a neutral mindset to the challenge.
The point is, when folks try to facilitate solutions to their own work it can get muddy. An unbiased POV can look at the problem without being bogged down by minutia. They might even challenge the problem itself and whether it’s the right one to solve. This is especially important if the project has been at a standstill for a while. Bringing in an impartial third party is usually the key to unblocking the path forward.
Structure & specialized tools are critical to getting the work done
This part is really important because getting unstuck isn’t achieved by simply huddling in a room to hash things out. Progress requires a detailed plan and specialized tools. When I build a framework it always includes customized exercises to move through the process, and accounts for the necessary prep work required of both the facilitator and the selected team.
How will you make sure voting is anonymous? Will key stakeholders need to weigh in at some point? What will you do to adapt for a virtual meeting vs. an in-person session? In addition to answering for these inputs, a good facilitator will design a workshop based on outcomes, dynamics and unique obstacles, rather than treating it as meeting with nothing to drive change other than an agenda.
It takes a trained and unbiased guide to neutralize politics, rally teams and quickly push ideas forward. Calling in a specialist when the project has stalled or barely gotten off the ground isn’t a mark of failure — it’s the sign of good leadership. Plus, it’s the fastest way to get out of the weeds so you can reclaim time, energy and headspace.
How long is too long to stall on a project? What do you wish you’d known about how a facilitator could help your team? Add a comment to start the conversation, and visit my website to learn more about my work helping teams get out of the woods.