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 (6)

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    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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