All of our client engagements are guided by an intention question. In fact, I’d recommend to anyone that every meeting you hold, short or long, will be more useful if it is held in the service of a question. It lets people know why they are there, and that their input is possible – and more important– valued.

In a recent engagement, one of our client groups decided that never again would they call a meeting, except in the service of a clear question. Plagued by incessant, pointless meetings, they rarely had time to get to their day jobs, spending days travelling from one boardroom to the next, always wondering “why am I here?”

My hope for them, if they’ve managed to follow through, is that they are having a lot fewer meetings, and that they are getting a lot more done, in shorter spans of time, when they do gather in their conference rooms.

That said, let me caution leaders everywhere who want to ask the big questions. Are you prepared for the answers? For a human system to improve, some element(s) of it must change. Rules must change, and the “rule” in question might be your long-standing belief that the attitude you brought to play in your rough-and-tumble startup is still applicable in your mid-sized enterprise. Sometimes the change that your system determines is necessary is contrary to what’s comfortable for you.

Are you working in service of your system, or in service of yourself? At times like this, with dozens or hundreds of stakeholders watching, it can get really (REALLY) awkward to be a leader, if your heart is, ummm….misplaced. In one rather memorable client engagement (a story I don’t tell), it wasn’t.

Oops?

I’ve long told clients to “be prepared to be surprised.” That the point of engaging our team is to effect real change in their human system. A human system is inherently brilliant. I hold this belief quite close to my heart. If you ask a human system a challenging question, they will tend to drill through the bullshit and get to real value. Some leaders don’t really expect that to happen. Unfortunately for them, with honest, open dialogue and meaningful collaboration, it usually does.

Change is messy. You can’t get around it. So when you ask a big, hairy, audacious question, and you tell the system that you are looking for their honest input – be aware that they may start discussing (and deciding) things that make you REALLY uncomfortable.

There are further ramifications (there always are). Your system will have now clarified the areas requiring change so that they can move toward greater health. Being sensible, healthy critters, they will naturally presume that, with this new clarity in place, the system will make (and you will actively, passionately support) the changes that move them toward greater health. Your level of activity over the coming days, weeks and months with show your stakeholders the extent to which they can trust you to follow through on critical activities that will enable a more useful state.

I have seen wholesale defections of high performance teams on several occasions in the months after an event. Realizing at a conscious level that their human system is dysfunctional, even toxic, and that leadership is unwilling to act in the best interests of the system, key team members will sometimes choose to leave rather than fight.

So one more time I will caution: the answer may make you really (REALLY) uncomfortable. Do you really (REALLY) want to ask that question?

Yes?

Give us a call.