Posted on December 19th, 2023
By Cubie Davis King, Ph.D.
Wilma is fed up and says she won’t take it anymore. Jonathan swears he will address the issue before every team meeting but never does. Maria shows excellent courage when talking one-on-one with team members but freezes up when it's time actually to deal with the problem.
What is causing such trepidation among team members? It’s those proverbial “elephant in the room” issues that everyone at work is aware of, but no one wants to stick their neck out and address. And the number one reason employees don’t speak up is fear. These fears are myriad, from fear of losing a job or promotion to fear that their manager will no longer like them. And experts have confirmed that these fears are real.
Here are four simple but effective ways to address those elephant-in-the-room situations that are inflicting great pain and hardship on teams everywhere.
- First, start with doubt. It’s a mistake for a leader to walk into a team meeting thinking they know all about the situation. There is always something being held back. Great leaders know how to lead team members into crucial conversations. If you start with doubt, you will end in certainty. It can be as simple as asking, “So, what’s on your mind?
- Make it safe for everyone to share. Create a culture of respect at team meetings. Never allow members to be demeaned and cut off when sharing their views. As the leader, you can’t assume that employees will act civil; you must model what this looks like for them. It is also of utmost importance to establish ground rules for team engagement. Too often, we see leaders conducting meetings based on how they feel at the moment, until one day, the problem explodes and is no longer contained. As the saying goes, dig the well before you thirst. Establish team engagement rules long before you need them and set clear expectations on how you expect members to conduct themselves during team meetings.
- Welcome different points of view. However, don’t just talk about it; at team meetings, go around the table and solicit opinions from team members. Let them know that their thoughts and ideas matter, even when they strike a negative tone. When this happens, work with that particular member and train them to present their opinions and get respected.
- Create a reward system. Reward (never punish) those who have the courage to surface difficult issues. This means that leaders can’t get offended when difficult issues are brought up. If you (as the leader) are having problems detaching yourself and feel easily offended when difficult topics surface, then hire an executive coach to assist you with getting past these feelings. This issue is much too important to leave to chance.
Remember this: great teams are always in conflict. There will always be complex issues to deal with. How the leader addresses these “elephants in the room situations ultimately determines if they move to the next level in the organization
To learn more and gain access to a powerful new resource to help your leaders master addressing elephants in the room, go to www.cubieking.com.