Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Time We All Heard Crickets in the Boardroom

There was conflict between the CTO and some leaders in IT, and you could feel the impact on the mission critical project. The CEO called everyone involved, included the CTO, into the executive conference room and told us all how frustrated he was with what he was hearing about.

Then he sternly asked, "So, does anyone want to say something now about the CTO?"

Not surprisingly, no one offered up anything.

"That's what I thought - crickets!"

And the meeting was over.

But was the problem solved? No. Were ideas or input even shared? Nope.

Now, this might be an extreme case, but in general, asking your team "What do you think of the idea?" often nets you less than 100% honest engagement, feedback and healthy conflict. Especially if you work with people in IT, who are often introverts.

From Dr. Carmella's Guide to Understanding the Introverted ($2.99!)

Yet project management, managers and leaders often lean toward vocal, extroverted ways of collaborating. You might ask what people think, hear positive things from the other extroverts in the room, and then walk out the door thinking that everyone's on board. But they're NOT on board, they just have a harder time collaborating verbally, especially in public or high stakes situations. Yet these often detailed, thoughtful, less-emotion-based people might be precisely who you want to hear most before making a critical decision.

My preferred way of collaborating on quick yes/no group decisions is with something called the "Fist of Five." Especially in agile, team-based work, you often have to make group decisions, such as:

  • Is this date realistic (confidence vote)?
  • Is this the most feasible approach?
  • Team, do you want to change how the team is working based on the retrospective feedback?

The most common practice is with the "Fist of Five. To take the vote or get the feedback, simply have everyone hold up fingers representing where they stand, as follows:

  • 5 - They love the idea. They'll even volunteer time, or to lead or champion it. Passionate. 
  • 4 - They like the idea. Positive.
  • 3 - They're not that happy or thrilled, but they won't get in the way. Meh.
  • 2 - They have some questions or concerns. If those are answered or addressed, they can get onboard.  
  • 1 - No way. Ever. When pigs fly. Not on my watch, etc. 

Fist of five is a great way to hear everyones voice and quickly see who's not in agreement and why (and then work to get them in agreement).

For more on the introversion topic, check out the two great books Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and Quiet Influence: The Introvert's Guide to Making a Difference.

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