Scenario: Important People

As an action learning coach, how would you handle the following situation: You are working with a team of really important people. Their phones are ringing continually. Members are moving in and out of the sessions to respond to emergency situations that cannot wait until after the meeting. Your inclination is to try to get them to put the devices away. They refuse and come up with a team norm for how they will handle decision making with whoever is in the room.

Tags: Action Learning, ActionLearning Coach, Team Coach, WIAL, WIAL Action Learning, WIAL Talk

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Comments (9)

  • Avatar

    Flavia Perez

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    I would say “I observed that some participants have their phones turned on and ringing and are leaving the room to answer phone calls.
    • Has anyone else observed this?
    • How does this impact the group?
    • What could be our rule regarding mobile phones?”

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    Ronald Sifford

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    I have observed several participant’s phones ringing and members moving in and out of the room during our session to answer calls. Has anyone else observed these actions? How does the Team want to handle the use of phones during our session? How do the actions impact our group and the continuity of our conversations? What would be beneficial for the Team moving forward with norms around distractions during our Team sessions?

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    Mon Wong

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    Since they decided to continue while there were incomplete members, I would likely intervene after one or two questions/decisions when the members are distracted or not complete. “Team, how would your rate your participation to *this* session? 10 being asking and answering a lot of questions and 1 being not at all.”

    “What would be the impact to the session if we continue on like this?”

    “What would you like to do differently now to maximize the rest of our X minutes left?”

    During reflection towards the end of the session, I can reinforce this by further asking “What are we learning about distractions during meetings?”

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    Jessica McWade

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    “Emergency situations” are in the eye of the beholder. How many authentic emergencies can one group of leaders truly have in a two-hour period? My experience is that some high-level people think every call and e-mail they receive is important, and they’re used to getting their way. It is certain that every time they interrupt the proceedings to respond to a call or e-mail, however, they risk compromising the effectiveness of action learning.

    Some of them admit to the situation, so that’s a positive. They’ve established a ground rule, however, that simply enables the counterproductive and disrespectful behaviors and reduces or eliminates high-quality, highly engaged participation. After all, it takes teams time to recover from each and every individual interruption. Participants who disappear and then return to ask questions that have already been covered, for example, further hamper the work. Indeed, the coach may ask the group how they feel about that question knowing that it had already been asked in the questioner’s absence. That’s a form of living proof that the interruptions are harming the process.

    I would ask the group fairly quickly how they would rate the quality of the discussion thus far. I’d ask them how they would rate the quality of their engagement thus far. The risk here is that some – especially the most senior folks – could suggest that the discussion is just fine in order to continue enabling their desired behaviors. I’d clarify whether this is how everyone else in the group feels.

    Given that these are likely people who are proud of their productivity, effectiveness and time management, I’d echo Mon Wong’s point above and ask what the results of the session will be with continued distraction or could be with an agreement to stay focused on the work. This conversation might have them revisit the previous norm and improve it. No matter what, I’ll want to ask at the end of the process what the group has learned in this context about distractions as a result of this experience.

    Ultimately, in the rare case that this is a real emergency such as a death from an industrial accident that must involve most or all members of the group, I might even ask them whether they want to proceed at this time. Cancelling the session is never a great idea, but it might be even worse to continue a sloppy session that produces little learning and poorly conceived actions.

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    Jeremy Gwee

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    The aim of action learning is “working on a real problem, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, & as an organization while doing so”. The behavior of these so-called important people can imply that the problem may not be important enough and may think that they have anything to learn from the activity. I would stop the process and ask them whether resolving the problem was worth their time and effort. If they do not think so then I would abort the session and speak with the sponsor. It is important at the outset of every session to read out the purpose of the action learning and obtain a commitment from the participants that they would participate and carry out the solution. They are not here to make recommendations. They are to work with the problem presenter to find a solution that they could together work to implement.

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    abdi dharma saragih

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    Observing the situation as a coach I will intervere by asking question to the team
    “what is happening right now?”
    “What is the impact to the group if one of the member not inclusive in these team?”
    then I will ask to the team to set rules to overcome the situation

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  • Avatar

    Nidhipon Tritiptawin

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    Given the culture of the country I am leaving in, working with very important people is something we have to prepare well and ready for any situation. Many important people think that they are truly important and any rules cannot strictly apply to them.

    Therefore, if I am an action learning coach who have to work with a team of really important people, before the first session begins, I will first seek for their commitment of adopting Action Learning as a tool to help the organization or the team and make a clear agreement about what I expect from the team (such as punctuality, focus, etc.).

    In the session, if this situation happens anyway, I will need to intervene, with a question probably like “Team, from scale 1-10, how are we doing about focusing with the session?” Then I will ask, “What impact will be if we cannot focus fully on the issue we are working with?,” “What is our objective of being here today?,” “What can we do to ensure that our objective can be reached/ we can make this session beneficial to everyone and the best use of limited and valuable time we all have?”

    And if it’s clear to me that the team want to do whatever they want to and don’t pay respect to the presence of the coach and the sake of the team themselves, I will tell them politely but firmly that I have observed that there are probably something more important to do at the moment for some of us than the session and ask if anyone has observed the same thing. And I will ask what the group wants to do – to go on (with a measure to ensure the focus on the session), to postpone the session (having to specify when and where to meet again), or anything else (even to discontinue the Action Learning). The choice is totally theirs. I see no point of dragging the session which I have seen clearly that it will waste time of both parties.

    If we are lucky to be back on track and able to continue the session to the end, this situation can be a good learning for the group/the organization. We can also link them to each team member’s leadership competency and personal learning as well.

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    • Avatar

      Nidhipon Tritiptawin

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      **Typo correction**

      Given the culture of the country I am living** in, working with very important people is something we have to prepare well and ready for any situation. Many important people think that they are truly important and any rules cannot strictly apply to them.

      Therefore, if I am an action learning coach who have to work with a team of really important people, before the first session begins, I will first seek for their commitment of adopting Action Learning as a tool to help the organization or the team and make a clear agreement about what I expect from the team (such as punctuality, focus, etc.).

      In the session, if this situation happens anyway, I will need to intervene, with a question probably like “Team, from scale 1-10, how are we doing about focusing with the session?” Then I will ask, “What impact will be if we cannot focus fully on the issue we are working with?,” “What is our objective of being here today?,” “What can we do to ensure that our objective can be reached/ we can make this session beneficial to everyone and the best use of limited and valuable time we all have?”

      And if it’s clear to me that the team want to do whatever they want to and don’t pay respect to the presence of the coach and the sake of the team themselves, I will tell them politely but firmly that I have observed that there are probably something more important to do at the moment for some of us than the session and ask if anyone has observed the same thing. And I will ask what the group wants to do – to go on (with a measure to ensure the focus on the session), to postpone the session (having to specify when and where to meet again), or anything else (even to discontinue the Action Learning). The choice is totally theirs. I see no point of dragging the session which I have seen clearly that it will waste time of both parties.

      If we are lucky to be back on track and able to continue the session to the end, this situation can be a good learning for the group/the organization. We can also link them to each team member’s leadership competency and personal learning as well.

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Antonella Mediati

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    I would intervene and say “ I notice that some members are using their phones and leaving the room often”. “How is this impacting the effectiveness of this group?” What will happen if we continue? If there is no response, I night go roundtable and ask everyone to rate 1 to 10 on how important it is to work on a solution to our problem? I then would follow up with a question on how the team wants to handle the use of cell phones for the next X minutes to maximize our times together? What would be a fair “ground rule” to establish as a team norm, so that we can effectively move through the rest of our time here together?

    In addition, I believe that it is important, when training the sponsor and team, to reinforce the importance of active team participation. If the Action Learning coach has information to believe that the group will be difficult to work with, in respect to “team norms”, or that some people may be “too important” to dedicate their full attention, it might be a good investment to spend 30 minutes before establishing team “ground rules” such as “we will not use phones in the room” to create democracy and equality in the group preemptively. The idea here is that team would proactively establish the additional ground rules. Ideally, only fully active participants that are committed to learning (one of the six components of action learning) are selected to be part of the action learning group.

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