I’m walking with another one of my coaching classes via ChairCo and we had our first group coaching meeting this past week, which was a blast! This class is entirely different than the previous class for more than one reason but the most obvious difference is that it’s an all-guy group, which means that… well, it’s all guys (and you can fill in the rest).
One of the most important things that I do with my team-coaching method is make sure the environment is the absolute best for dialogue, transparency, candor, and ultimately life-change. To do that I do serious vetting of the class participants and it can take a lot of time. When people begin signing up for the next class (and I’m always taking applicants - see at the end of that post) I do phone and in-person interviews to make sure that the class is culturally developed to create these types of environments.
To be honest I reject a lot of people simply because it’s not the right “fit” for the existing members of the class, which is typically based on the first person to enroll. You see, there are only three seats available in total so the makeup of the group is of the utmost importance! If one of the students is going to create misalignment then we all suffer for it.
The point is to maximize effectiveness in a space of limited resources (time, energy, and attention). Great leaders do this well (and I’m still learning to do it!) and they create incredible environments for candor and discussion.
Here are a few things that I’ve learned over the years that enable this type of environment to be created:
- The environment matters. This is why I bring my students and those that I coach to various different locations (we were at The Work Spot for this session) to enable candid conversation with privacy. It has to be quiet enough to capture the inflections of people’s voices and the decor can’t be disruptive.
- Access to media matters. Sometimes the best way to communicate is not always verbal. Body language aside I ask the students to present themselves in whatever way feels the most comfortable. Things like flat-screen projection units, wifi, and other media need to be within arms reach.
- Personality matters. This is why I vet the students for each class and match based on the best cultural fit for that unique group. One person could quickly dominate in the wrong student makeup.
- Context is everything. I provide the context for the group meeting. We are all here to become a better version of ourselves, with more passion, more vision, and more clarity on how to get the things that we need to get done, done. We don’t pull punches and we don’t soft-pitch the hard questions. I provide this culture through my leadership.
- Being explicit saves the day. We are human and we fill gaps of information with ambiguity, distrust, and anxiety. I cut this off at the legs by being explicit with the group about our day, our goals, and our intentions. Gaps filled.
- Ground rules help, a lot. I also establish the “rules of engagement” which allow people to be the most candid and approachable. I tell my students that everything is kept in confidence and that their continued enrollment is based on mutual trust and respect. I’ll kick you out right-quick if I sense dishonesty.
- Food is good. Engaging outside the group meetings is not only enjoyable but rewarding. I take the class out for meals and coffee breaks to give us a different vantage and environment to relate. I also do weekly one-on-one’s so that each student can get that precious intense investment.
- Having fun is not just a result, it’s a goal. I always have this as a part of my top priorities. Sure, we’re talking some difficult stuff and I’m kicking their butts, but it still can be super-fun.
These are just some of the things that I think about when I attempt to create successful environments for candor. I don’t hold this dogmatically as context dictates a lot of the execution so I’m flexible when necessary.
What are your thoughts? How do you create environments that are extremely comfortable for those that are participating? How do you make sure that people feel available to be honest, open, and transparent?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions – I know that many of you do this for a living!