Scenario: Ring Ring

As an Action Learning Coach how would you handle the following situation:

Team members are coming and going as they please -either walking out to go to the toilet, or making phone calls. The rest of the members continue with the process. When you check in after each occurrence the team members indicate its ok.

Tags: Action Learning Coach

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Comments (11)

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    Simon Hardiman

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    Interesting scenario as if it is OK with the team it is OK right? I would intervene with the standard ‘How well are we doing? What could we do to be more effective? What else? Do we have consensus on the problem?’ and follow this up with ‘What is the best use of our time for the rest of this session? Are there any additional ground rules the team would like to put in place to ensure that we use the time in this way?’ If the team are still OK working this way then I would let the session continue. I would reference it in the wrap-up ‘How do the team think that the phone calls / rest room breaks impacted the session? but ultimately if the team want to work this way and it is working for them then I would leave them to it but continue to ask questions in any follow on sessions that would give them the opportunity to revisit their decision if it was negatively affecting the team.

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    Amy Moore

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    Simon’s comments are very pertinent. I might also ask at the end of the session ‘how well did we create a space for listening and sharing’? And at the start of the next session I might ask ‘what do we need to do to ensure that there is time and space for toilet and phone call breaks during this session?’

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    Carole Shaw

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    Another option is to observe what happens when people return. If they do not interrupt what’s happening and are able to catch up without noticeable impact, then I would also drop my interventions.

    A positive way to bring the team’s attention to the pattern and what is working for them is to ask a probing follow up: “I notice that when people leave and return, the group handles it a certain way. What’s working well about your process?” and after they discuss ask “What, if anything would you like to change?”

    I think the response also depends on the amount of ‘coming and going’ and the length of the session between actual breaks. Sometimes, people do have urgent biological needs (smile….like me!). Some people find it difficult to sit still for 2 or so hours, especially if they are used to moving around a lot in their normal job.

    I would also try to observe if it’s one person doing it a lot or is everyone doing it, etc. This data might also influence why I might decide to continue to follow up. If it’s someone with a lot of formal or informal power, then that’s a very different issue & that might be why the group is saying, ‘it’s fine’ when they REALLY don’t mean that. What they may be saying in code words is, ‘Person X has too much power for us to challenge her’. Or they could be saying, ‘In our culture, we avoid conflict and confronting behaviors that we don’t like’. Under this circumstance, probing a bit more might help the group break through these types of organizational dynamics.

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    eoberdieck

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    I would try to head this problem off after sharing the two rules of Action Learning. I always find that asking for “other team norms” before we begin is a great way to address things like technology, interruptions, respect, anonymity or confidentiality, etc.

    Ultimately, the team owns the process. So if I find that this wasn’t a norm set by the group, and if my first few check-ins are being met with “okay responses,” I would stop checking in about the issue.

    I might ask at the end of the session, “What was the impact of the choice we made to allow folks to come and go as needed?” Then, based on response, a follow-up might be in order like, “Why is it important that we allow this flexibility? What value does this choice add to our conversation and work flow?” OR “Why is important to rethink this choice as you’ve indicated? What impact does this choice have on our conversation and work flow?”

    And if we have run out of time. I could use the following line of questioning when starting the next session.

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    Lere Baale

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    At the beginning of a major session, we would normally ask for ground rules…including break out time for telephone and rest room. however, if we still notice this, i could ask .. What i s the best way to manage the time for best participation of each group member in view of several distractions created by people going out to make calls during session ?

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    Liora Gross

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    Group norms determine performance. If the team members indicate that the coming and going is ok, I would let the session run. At the end of the session I would ask questions related to team energy and performance, and how this could be enhanced. Ideally the team would find its way to creating additional groundrules.

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    Anne Edwards

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    I’ve read the previous posts with great interest as this is a problem that has not come up for me in the past but may well in the future considering how busy a lot of our participants seem to be. I agree with all that has been said about respecting the culture of the organization one is working with, but it leaves me wondering about the organizational culture that Action Learning promotes – one of respect, teamwork and open communication, and how that fits with the behaviour described in the scenario. I would follow the line of questioning that Carole suggested:
    “A positive way to bring the team’s attention to the pattern and what is working for them is to ask a probing follow up: “I notice that when people leave and return, the group handles it a certain way. What’s working well about your process?” and after they discuss ask “What, if anything would you like to change?”
    and add to that “What organizations have you worked in before with a similar organizational culture?” “What was the impact (positive or negative) over time on this culture?” “What , if anything, would you like to change?”

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    Ervin Flores

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    I woudl agree with Lere , at the beginign the groudn rules need to be set . I will also look an opportunity in which the absence of a memeber or a disruption impacts the team performance and then I will intervene with ” how is the performance of the team at this point? What can the team do better to improves the performance ?

    This could probably lead into discussing the interumptions and establish the better process moving forward.

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    Jo C

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    I especially like the comments and questions that avoid attribution – as coaches we don’t know what each group member is thinking and feeling – we can only observe and enquire. I have been in sessions where the problem presenter has got up and left for 45minutes and I did a session with my extended family where almost everyone got up to get drinks and food! Sometimes what I have thought would be experienced as disrespectful and rude wasn’t even noticed when I enquired of the group – and other times it was. It seems to me that some of the cultural norms can be gauged beforehand. One of the most useful questions asked of me as a sponsor in a pre session conversation for a group problem (modelled by John Sautelle when working with our Coach Community) ended with “Is there anything I need to be aware of?”. That gave him great data and, as a secondary benefit, raised my awareness about the most important dynamics the coach would need to manage.

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    DrBea

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    Wonderful responses. The first time I observed it I would notice it and ask the impact. I’ve observed just stepped out. What impact does their absence have on the team? How do we want to handle it? and finish with – How do we want to handle it when they return?

    Many times teams tolerate behaviors because they have become the norm not because it’s good for the team. The questions are phrased without judgement, so the team can decide what (if any) impact there is. It is also left to the team to determine how to handle the missing participant and how to handle their return. I don’t believe I’ve ever had two teams respond to this in the same way.

    Asking what the impact is – I’ve gotten everything from they are a key player and we will just spin our wheels until they get back – to they just stepped out to go to the bathroom they’ll be right back, no biggie.

    In terms of how to handle the return, this I find almost more crucial because typically the returning party decides how it is handled, rather than the folks that had been impacted. Here the answers have ranged from – it would be a good time to take 5 minutes to recap – to – they can sit quietly until they have caught up. If they ask about anything we’ve covered we will let them know we have covered that and will catch them up when we all take a break.

    As the Action Learning coach I am just looking to raise awareness. From there the team can decide what is best for them.

    Happy Coaching
    Bea

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    Kelly Gough

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    At the beginning of the session after making the groud rules known, asking people to turn their phones off and to have respect for the group – it would depend for me on whether or not there is a noticeable impact on the team at the time of the person walking away from the table and/or when they come back i.e. if it is interrupting the energy of group or very disruptive I would follow the line of quesitoning that everyone else has i.e. “I have noticed team members taking unscheduled breaks, what is the impact of this on the team” and “what would the team like to happen for the rest of this session”.

    Taking phone calls mid session when everyone has been asked to turn their phones off is clearly disruptive to the process and a little rude, but again it depends on the impact this is having on the group as it is what they consider is acceptable. Perhaps this could be brought to their attention at the end of the session by asking the team if they had noticed any interruptions and how the session could be improved next time.

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