The coach's corner - February 2021

Feb 09, 2021
Julia Rowan answers your management, leadership and team development questions.

Q. I do my best to bring my team together on calls, but it’s a one-way street with me doing all the talking. In general, we all get on well enough together. How can I get everyone to contribute?

First of all, congratulations on noticing this (not all leaders do) and wanting to change it. Team meetings are often the only time the whole team is together, and they are a vital tool for building the team you want. There are many reasons for silence and non-participation at meetings, but you say that team members get on well. So, I wonder if you and the team have fallen into a pattern where you call and run the meeting, share information, get through business – and they sit and listen.

Think about how you want your team to develop. Do you want colleagues to be more proactive? More collegiate? More strategic? Then, reflect on how you use the team meeting to achieve that. Changing established patterns takes time and discipline. Prepare great questions to ask your team – a great question leads to a great discussion and doesn’t necessarily have a ‘right’ answer. It would help if you also let go of the pressure to talk. This is a tough habit to break, especially when there’s silence.

Invite the team to share their experience of the team meeting – what they find more and less valuable or how the team meeting could be more useful. Working from home provides you with a great reason to do that, so give the team some notice and invite them to share what they like and what they don’t. Listen to the feedback without responding, other than to say “thank you”. Explaining and justifying sends a clear message that we’re not really listening. Then, act on the feedback and check-in after a few meetings. Ask about what has improved and what still needs work. This reaffirms the idea that talking about how we work together is good.

Q. One member of my team is outstanding at most of his job, but poor in one aspect. I’ve given him lots of feedback – positive feedback about what he does well and honest feedback about where he needs to improve. He always listens and agrees, but nothing changes.

This is common, and it sounds like you’ve fallen into a comfortable pattern: you give feedback, he listens, nothing changes, you give more feedback, and so on. Patterns can take on a life of their own, but they need to be broken if they’re not working. You must change the pattern. Instead of (yet again) giving your team member feedback on the one aspect of their job they are poor at, say: “John, I’ve given you feedback about (aspect), and I notice that (aspect) is continuing. Can we talk about why that’s happening?” This leads you to quite a different discussion.

When giving feedback, it’s useful to describe (e.g. “your report was two days late”) rather than judge (e.g. “you don’t care about this project”). This is difficult as our brain automatically interprets (judges) behaviour and concludes what it means! So “you don’t care about this project” may appear to be the truth, but it’s not – it’s your story. The truth is that the reports are late. Paring back from judgement to description takes preparation.

Julia Rowan is Principal Consultant at Performance Matters, a leadership and team development consultancy. If you have a question, email