How Can You Move the Needle on Things That Matter Most to You?

For this article by Jo Ilfeld, Executive Leadership Coach on change the image shows a jigsaw puzzle piece with the word change written on it.

This article originally appeared in Forbes

My client, Xander, decided to work out every morning to reach his fitness goals.

But he was immediately faced with a problem. His European colleagues kept putting 7 am meetings onto his calendar (despite the fact he blocked it out), while Asia asked for 9 pm alignment meetings. Despite Xander’s sheer willpower to make his workouts happen, he feels constantly tired and that his best efforts are being undermined by his team’s needs.

For many of you that lead teams and have a larger span of control, just making your own resolutions or changes (and blocking out times on your schedule) won’t be enough to move the needle on the things that matter most to you and your work.

If there are changes you need to see happen in your team, whether it’s a work-life balance issue for you, or an overall necessary work process upgrade – it will be much more effective to problem solve for a culture change WITH your team, rather than FOR your team.

Here’s my five-step process to getting buy-in from your team and enacting team culture shifts that stick.

Dr. Jo’s Five-Step Guide To Creating Culture Change Within Your Team:

  1. Schedule a “roomy” meeting with your team. I recommend at least an hour but you might want to scale this up if your team often has stragglers or has a tendency to drift off-topic. In this meeting, lay out the vision for change that you want to see in your team, why you’re holding this vision, and what are the barriers to change you currently experience.
    Let’s say you want your team to be less bogged down in meetings because people are complaining about their second shift of having to work at night to get their work done. It will first be helpful to lay out how you would like their daily schedules to look/feel and why – then you can go into the team’s habits you’ve noticed (perhaps even participated in) that would challenge this vision.
  2. Get your team to write first, then sit back and listen. Once you’ve laid out the vision and challenges, ask your team for their thoughts and ideas. The first step should be to have each person write down three of their own ideas about possible shifts the team could make. Research shows that teams brainstorm more effectively when they start out first with individual brainstorming. Once that’s happened, have each person read their ideas and then give your team time to discuss the alternatives generated.
    Your job is to encourage them to keep thinking out of the box and to take great notes. Make it clear that this is an open creative space and whatever you do, please don’t start explaining to them why their ideas wouldn’t work and defending aspects of the status quo they suggest dismantling. Will you hear some genuinely bad ideas? It’s highly probable, but other studies suggests that more ideas generate better ideas and editing too soon can dry up our creativity.
  3. Give yourself a day or two after the meeting to marinate on the ideas you heard and wrote down. When you’re ready to go through your meeting notes, use your own creativity too. Even if an idea, as stated by your team, might feel impossible, consider if there are modifications of that idea that you could support. After some creative thinking and processing time, pick your 2-3 favorite ideas that were generated by the meeting.
  4. Schedule a follow-up team meeting. In this meeting thank the team mightily for their help and ideas. Let them know which of their ideas you’ve chosen to start with for your first team experiences and why. Explain how you’ll implement these ideas for the next few months.
    When there are questions of fine-tuning, I encourage you to let your team weigh in and take ownership of some of the “how” involved. For example, if you have come up with 2 conflicting ideas or have a good idea but still aren’t sure exactly what way to implement it, let your team help you narrow down the precise strategies that will work best for them. For example, if you’ve decided to have a no-meeting day, your team can weigh in on whether Wednesdays or Thursdays would work best for that day, or alternatively if they would prefer Wednesday and Thursday mornings, leaving the afternoons available for meetings.
  5. Set a time in your calendar to revisit the changes with your team in 90 days. You can use this meeting to assess how well these new strategies are doing to meet the vision you set out (step 1). This is a great time to make smaller tweaks to refine your solutions even further. And if an idea sounded great and is a dud in reality? It’s a great way to let your team weigh in on this and what might work instead.

As a leader you want to influence your team’s culture for the better – and yet culture is collective, so it’s often more effective to enlist that collective to change it for the better.

Using my five-step culture change process gives your team a voice in impacting their culture, while not surrendering your priorities or veto power to the team’s will.

Want more on culture change? Read Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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