The Weekly Check In

The following is the first in a series of pieces I am writing tackling day to day management and leadership questions taken from a quiet leadership approach.

Problem: I am an introverted leader and find it difficult to run effective meetings or establish influence as the leader.

Good news for quiet leaders; your approach that comes naturally to you, is one that is now recognised as the best way to communicate with a team and that is through one to one check in’s. No need for loud town hall meetings, you can best support your team using your quiet leadership style.

Authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall of ‘Nine Lies About Work’ say, that without regular (weekly) check in’s you are only talking in generalities with your team and not specifics. They say your brief check in should include two questions:

What are your priorities this week?

How can I help?

You might be thinking I have too many people on my team to be able to do this but if you do Buckingham and Goodall would suggest you have too many people on your team or what is called your span of control.

Check in’s can be short but must be regular. The analogy of brushing your teeth is used. You wouldn’t give them a good brush twice a year for good oral health, it needs to be regular. Data shows that team leaders who take this approach have higher levels of engagement and lower levels of voluntary turnover.

Colleen Barrett, President of Southwest Airlines is said to have spent 70% of her time interacting with her people. Things change fast in an organisation, information becomes obsolete, goals and plans set at the start of the year can become irrelevant. If you don’t know the specifics of what is going on for your team you can’t effectively support them.

The totality of our work experience comes down to the local interactions we have with our colleagues, managers and within our team. According to Corporate Rebels 50% of employees quit because of bad managers. Don’t let your team members become one of them schedule your weekly check in’s today.

Aoife Lenox is an Introvert Coach and Engagement Specialist. She promotes strategies of quiet leadership to promote meaningful and high performing work.

Reimagine Work

‘People are responsible adults at home. Why do we suddenly transform them into adolescents with no freedom when we reach the workplace?’ Ricardo Semler, Corporate Rebels.

It’s Sunday night, how are you feeling? Are you energised and excited for the work week ahead or is it more a feeling of dread in anticipation of Monday morning?

While catching up (virtually) with some friends earlier in the year I was struck by both their attitudes towards work. Sentiments such as I can’t believe I have to do this until I retire pervaded the conversation. While starting and running a business is no walk in the park and I have many days where I think I will give up I no longer have the dreaded Sunday night feeling anticipating the week ahead. For the most part I really enjoy my work, get great satisfaction from it and am rewarded by its growth trajectory for which I am truly grateful.

What would it look like to reimagine work so everyone could shake off the Sunday night feeling? In the book Corporate Rebels, authors Joost Minnaar and Pim De Morree describe their journey of traveling around the world to visit some of the most progressive organisations who have managed to make work more fun. Some are pretty radical and need to be changed from the top down but others can be done at any level of the organisation and you can try them within your own team.

  1. Embrace a culture of experimentation. Let go of the idea that anything is predictable or planned – never more true than right now. Throw out the annual plans which are archaic and take advantage of opportunities and experience available to you. Give your colleagues autonomy to try new things and ensure that mistakes are welcomed as learning opportunities. From this you will build yourself an empowered workforce.
  2. The higher you go in an organisation the less is known about what goes on the frontline. What impact would it have if team leaders and management viewed themselves there as service to employees? Their only role was to support their team. Traditional organisations often experience the HiPPO effect (highest paid persons opinion) or as the Peter Principle describes ‘in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence’.
  3. Throw out the job descriptions. Hire for personality and train for skills is well recognised but I would suggest rarely implemented, take a look at the ads on any job board and you will see the lengthy list of skills and experience required. In progressive organisations roles are developed around the talents of its workforce. The Dutch home care organisation Buurtzorg got rid of job titles, employees are encouraged to explore their talents in order to reach their full potential. ‘Studies show that employees are 15% less likely to quit if they can use their strengths and 8% more productive when they use their talents.’
  4. Distribute authority. Speed up decision making and promote autonomy by giving pre-authorisation. Employees can make decisions within certain pre-determined boundaries such as within Netflix to ‘make wise decisions despite ambiguity’. Their research found that when employees can make important decisions, ‘they have a greater sense of entrepreneurship and pride’. David Marquet, American Navy submarine commander managed this despite working in a highly traditional and hierarchical organisation such as the navy.

From democratically electing leaders to salary transparency (which btw has a positive effect on gender equality), there are lots of seemingly radical changes that can be implemented. But if your organisation does not start to change it risks stagnation and we know the world of work is changing. The 4 day a week movement is starting to gain momentum. Just this week Spain announced it would facilitate almost 200 companies to offer this to its employees at a 100% pay for 80% work. Countries are measuring their wellbeing rather than GDP. Mental health statistics are frightening.

What is progressive today will be the norm of tomorrow. Do you want to set your organisation apart as a great place to work and start integrating these approaches now? If so, I would love to work with you on gently exploring these changes at work.

Aoife Lenox is a Coach, Trainer and Consultant and works with organisations who wish to experiment with new ways of working to create better workplaces promoting engagement, wellbeing and ultimately resulting in performance. Would you like to take the first step in adapting your work environment? Reach out for a free consultation.

Training, Introverts and Ice-Breakers

For some introverts attending a training session even a virtual one, can be an intense experience and a step enough outside their comfort zone. When the ice-breakers arrive, you might find your introverts wishing they could run for the hills.

Yet, we know as Trainers and Facilitators that developing relationships is an important part of working within a team and even a temporary team for the duration of a training session can benefit from these interactions. Social learning theory emphasises how much we learn from observations and interactions with other people.

Our challenge as Trainers is, through an inclusive approach to find the sweet spot that encourages some openness to promote relationship building but respects the reserved nature of many introverts and the combination of personality types in the session.

How we Differ

We now know from neuroscience that introverts and extroverts differ in their sensitivity to the neurochemical dopamine and have different ways of processing information. The level to which this influences your interactions with others will vary from person to person as we also know personality is very complex and temperament is only one aspect of it. Nevertheless, temperament is worth considering when designing a training session.

Small levels of stimulation can increase dopamine levels in an introvert to the point of shut down. Introverts will say, they find they can no longer think or talk because of this overstimulation. Extroverts on the other hand require larger doses of it and are stimulated by external interactions which is why they often prefer to process externally and interact with more people than introverts. I am categorising for the purposes of discussion but generally these are our two big differences.

The good news is, with some awareness and pre-planning there are ways to build relationships, create trust and openness in a team setting that can satisfy everyone. The following are some suggestions around ice-breakers that should support introverts attending feel comfortable, and be in a position to get the most out of the session. When we feel psychologically safe we are able to contribute.

Independent Activities can also be Ice-breakers

An important part of team building is shared experience and so your first ice-breaker to warm everyone up could be an independent activity that does not require verbal contribution but is done together. I enjoyed a communication exercise done by a presenter which involved him asking us to take a square piece of paper and we followed his explicit instructions in how to fold the paper in half, then quarters, cut pieces off the edge and keep folding. One would assume because we had been given the same instructions that our papers should all look the same but when the 15 of us held it up to the camera, we laughed at how different our designs looked. The lesson of course was that we all hear things differently which can make communication so challenging. The other result however was we were warmed up.

Keep Ice-breakers Purposeful

To manage our energy as introverts we seem to instinctively know to focus our engagement on purposeful activities. Choose ice-breakers that will help move the training session along rather than just to get to know each other. You might consider an alternative independent activity relevant to your topic such as a ‘treasure hunt’ on the internet to find an article relevant to your training or put people in breakout rooms and give them a task or problem to solve.

One comment from an introvert said, ‘To me, the best icebreaker is a task or meaningful goal that you work on with someone’.

A purposeful exercise like this will allow introverts to participate fully but comfortably while extroverts who wish to talk it through afterwards can also do that. The results can be captured on a tool like Padlet.

Keep Questions Concrete

If you’re going to ask some warm up introduction questions, I suggest keeping them concrete rather than abstract. Introverts tend to be quite logical thinkers, fMRI’s demonstrate the differing ways our brains process and increased activity in the frontal cortex contributes to our preference for deep thinking and analysis. In one particular exercise I was asked what type of fruit I would be, this did nothing but sent the cortisol shooting through my body and made me feel anxious.

Small Groups

Introverts will generally be more comfortable in small groups so utilising break out rooms even for ice-breakers are a great idea. Assigning a purposeful task rather than a random topic can focus the group. Brian Little, Professor and Author on personality and well-being says

We are like all of the people, we are like some of the people and we are like none of the people’.

A break out room task could be to find commonalities rather than differences as a basis to build meaningful relationships. The results can be captured on a tool such as padlet.

It can be fun

Even Introverts are not opposed to a bit of fun! Integrate an element of competition such as quizzes or as in the example above perhaps the room who have identified the most in common wins. Or a short light hearted video, relevant to the topic can also relax the mood to get the session going.

Keep it Simple

The tool ‘one word’ allows participants to share just one word about a topic which reduces the pressure to speak up for a longer period and makes it easier to process. It can also be contributed in the chat function too but helps everyone see what others are thinking.

Overall, your ice-breaker is there to build a sense of community and togetherness for the purpose of the training session. Ensuring that everyone is comfortable is integral to that. Keep it simple, concrete rather than abstract, purposeful and a balance between independent activity and interaction, is in my opinion is the key to successful ice-breakers.