Building Engagement Quickly and Deeply. Really?
By Andrew Cohn / Lighthouse Consulting and Lenny Lind / Covision
Imagine an organization in the throes of a merger, or a massive reorganization. Not uncommon, but often the cause of considerable organizational wheel-spinning and personal suffering. Take, for example, a key function within a finance industry multinational, facing a number of significant challenges and changes, including new competitive market pressures and shifting employee demographics. The organization’s structure has changed resulting in some new and some merged functional and cross-functional teams. People in the organization are predictably unclear (if not afraid) about the new direction, or the rationale and specifics of the recent changes, or how they will be affected directly. Team members working far from the home office are feeling particularly disconnected.
You might imagine people in the organization symbolically in this way…
Some people are fully aware of the scope and details of the change, and a few have a good understanding of it. Most likely, a large percentage of the organization is barely aware of the big change underway. Without this awareness, let alone understanding and alignment, there is little likelihood the change can deliver the results imagined by its leaders.
In our experience, the most effective leaders would move to:
- Introduce new members of the leadership team
- Clarify the new strategy
- Share the new structure and the rationale for it
- Hear and address questions or concerns people might have about the new strategy and structure
- Increase the level of inclusion of the more remote team members
- Alleviate anxiety about potential layoffs
- Build trust and engagement across the team
To be sure, this is easier said than done. Many leadership teams fall back into old habits in order to survive the intense pressure for information, decisions and certainty. And substantive communications slow to a trickle right when they are needed most. Even so, inspired actions are achievable with the right approach. We describe here a new capability that combines sound organization development (OD) and coaching practices with whole-group communication processes and supporting technology. The results can be can be astounding both in terms of organization success and personal engagement and effectiveness.
The key is engagement; and the key to that is a quantum jump in communication. This approach includes holding a number of large, interactive meetings, coupled with strategic online interactive meetings and leadership coaching, all driven and connected by a participant-centered design process.
Unlike the approach used in large organizational settings for decades, this combines expert senior-level coaching with the capability of whole group communications. Messaging, listening and responding can be designed and lived authentically in a way that brings people together. When all stakeholders are truly engaged—when they feel informed, heard, and understood in a timely and safe manner –– most will come on board with nearly any major change.
The elements of this approach include:
- Executive coaching before-during-after large, significant meetings
These are the times when leadership is truly demonstrated, and most needed. Leaders need to be prepared (and feel prepared) to show up and engage the people who are depending on them. Using this approach, leaders are supported before meetings in articulating their purpose, clarifying key messages, staying centered, responding to challenges and effectively partnering across the organization. During meetings we help leaders stay focused, agile, and clear. After meetings we help leaders to harness the energy generated while everyone was together, as well as develop and execute personal and organizational action plans to address key priorities. What is critical is that leaders connect with what’s important, lead authentically (centered and connected with their purpose) and take effective action toward their goals.
- Expert support of the internal design team
It is key for leaders – not outside consultants – to own and drive change. To support this ownership we provide process clarity and large-group expertise to the team that is designing the change initiative. We assure that team member roles are clarified, especially the leaders’. We guide the design team to address the right topics, in the most effective sequence, together with the right balance of telling, asking, challenge, and discussion. This is achieved through facilitated discussions about the issues most important to all members of the organization.
- Agendas that highlight engagement in whole-group communication processes
The best meeting agendas are clear, tight and flexible in order to accommodate the needs of all participants. They clarify the meeting purpose, articulate desired outcomes that will deliver on the purpose, and work through process options to deliver, segment-by-segment, on the desired outcomes. As a result, leaders are better prepared for what will happen when whole-group communication technology is employed. This allows the change leadership team to be fully present, feeling comfortable and confident in open dialogue.
In this approach, small group discussions (and data capture) can be integrated into an otherwise ordinary-looking meeting – for extraordinary results. The process uses repeated cycles designed for optimal engagement:
- A topic is presented and a thinking challenge framed (as simple as, ‘What clarifications do you need?” or “What do you like/dislike about this proposal?”)
- In small groups, the question is discussed and the best ideas are captured digitally
- The captured data is simultaneously analyzed and distilled into themes, and prepared for sharing with the group
- The themes are shown and the leader/team engages in an open discussion focused on the objectives in the agenda.
The engagement cycle assures full participation in the most important agenda topics, regardless of group size and location. 300 participants can feel like 30. These “cycles of engagement” result in the greatest possible clarity and alignment on the way forward. Executives remark frequently that they’ve “never felt so connected with their groups.”
- Technology that facilitates whole group communication in meetings
Since the early 1990s, Covision has evolved web-based communication technology that is highly flexible for large groups. Technically speaking, we set up portable intranet servers and secure wireless networks in the meeting room in order to support participants’ interactive computer tablets. As needed, other meetings or individuals can be connected online to the server in the main meeting room. In this way, each small group can send its best ideas to a central point where they can be analyzed quickly for themes which in turn are presented back to the whole and then discussed.
The application of this technology raises engagement levels to new heights and trust is built in the process. All participants – those in the meeting room and those connected virtually – are able to express their thoughts and feelings in real time. Importantly, the leadership team can hear it all and respond immediately to the group with their understanding and perspective.
- Expert meeting facilitation
Process facilitation keeps meetings flowing smoothly, on time, inclusively, and focused on the desired results. We have decades of experience in a wide variety of settings and in a variety of ways—from a visible presence in front of the group to entirely ‘behind the curtain’. We often serve as the experienced ‘pair of hands’ for a senior leader who will be center stage at the meeting, and other times as the facilitator on stage thereby enabling the leader to participate more fully. Through careful facilitation, the most important facts are shared, and misconceptions or rumors can be addressed safely and dispelled.
With expert coaching, an empowered design team, an interactive agenda, whole group communication technology, large group expertise, online participation options and expert facilitation to “oil the gears” … this approach virtually guarantees highest engagement and alignment in the most difficult organization transitions.
- Internal capacity-building in parallel
After partnering with us, clients often consider bringing all or part of this whole group communication and coaching capability inside. Internal capacity is developed as we ask questions, offer design options, and bring project teams together. The formality of training and coaching is flexible. We can consult about our methods and processes as we co-develop processes, thus helping organizations build their engagement and collaboration capabilities for the future.
When stakeholders are engaged at such a high level, the effect is remarkable – as illustrated above in the group’s upward movement through the levels of engagement.
This approach has worked well for large, complex organizations like we identified in our introduction, but because of its flexibility it will also help nearly any organization – any size and in most cultures and situations. It provides a quantum jump in communications and alignment when it is needed most, generating value for all participating stakeholders. Engagement, reached quickly and deeply, is the secret key.
Click here for more on covisioning. which we think you’ll find is a game-changer. We wrote a book about our own 20-year journey of learning: Virtuous Meetings: Technology + Design for High Engagement in Large Groups.
For further information or a discussion about your situation, connect with us.
© Lenny Lind & Andrew Cohn 2018
Lenny Lind is a meeting design strategist, senior consultant, and founder of Covision. Covision provides design and technical production expertise worldwide for clients who need a quantum jump in the effectiveness of their next large meeting. You don’t need Covision to covision, but it helps to work with experts in the beginning. firstname.lastname@example.org