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Larry Reynolds, managing partner

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Courageous conversations

by Larry Reynolds on June 10, 2014

Creating a high performance team is simple. You just need to make sure that everyone in the team knows what’s expected of them, and has the motivation and the skills to do it. 

Clear expectations + good motivation + right skills = high performance.

Simple, but not easy. Getting everyone in your team to perform consistently at the highest levels is probably the most difficult thing most managers are asked to do – more difficult, usually, than the technical aspects of the job.

All kinds of things influence a person’s motivation and skills – personality, personal circumstances, reward systems, organisational culture, and role models. But as a manager, your biggest influence is through your conversations.

The biggest single difference between a high performing team and an average team is the frequency and the quality of the conversations between the team manager and team members.

There are nine types of conversation that great managers need to master. Proficiency in these nine conversations, and the willingness to use them appropriately and frequently, is what creates a high performing team.

Although these nine conversations are designed to achieve different outcomes with different people in different situations, they have one thing in common: it takes a certain amount of courage to make them happen. In the short term at least, it can sometimes feel easier to avoid the conversation rather than have it when it’s needed. That’s why they’re called courageous conversations.

Here are the nine types of courageous conversation you need to create a high performing team:

Conversations to clarify expectations

Courageous conversation 1 – goals

Some managers can be vague about what they expect of their staff. Great managers are very clear. They make sure that everyone in the team is clear about what they have to do, and that they have the resources to do it. Having done this, great managers are uncompromising about results.

Courageous conversation 2 – feedback for behaviour

Giving positive feedback is relatively straightforward – though most people feel they don’t get enough of this at work. Critical feedback can be more tricky. Average managers avoid it, or deliver it in a way that harms the bond of trust that’s essential to every good working relationship. Great managers know how to deliver evidence-based feedback, in the right tone of voice, which enables the recipient to do better next time.

Courageous conversation 3 – feedback for evaluation

Telling someone how they measure up against some agreed standard – ‘feedback for evaluation’ – is different from telling someone how to improve – ‘feedback for behaviour’. Problems arise when people expect one kind of feedback and receive another. Even more problems arise when the person receiving feedback for evaluation doesn’t think it’s fair. Great managers know how to deliver feedback for evaluation that’s honest but fair.

Courageous conversation 4 – receiving feedback

If you want your team to listen to the feedback you have for them, you must role model receiving it. That’s why great managers actively encourage feedback from their team members – and then listen carefully to what they have to say.

Conversations to increase motivation

Courageous conversation 5 – personal insight

You can’t motivate anyone unless you understand them and they trust you. Great managers spend time with their staff, often informally, to gain insight into what their people need in terms of motivation and trust. They also know how to listen and make sense of the answers.

Courageous conversation 6 – motivation

Some motivators are very specific to an individual, some are more generic, some are universal for all human beings. Getting the right mix and structuring it in the right way is at the heart of this courageous conversation.

Conversations to develop skills

Courageous conversation 7 – situational insight

What do you do when a member of staff comes to you for help with a challenging situation, even though they are highly motivated and highly skilled? This conversation will help gain the insight needed to move forward.

Courageous conversation 8 – skills

The purpose of this conversation is to enable you to identify what skills the team member needs to learn and how best they can learn them.

Courageous conversation 9 – next move

This courageous conversation is probably the most powerful of all. It enables the person to take action when they are unsure or unwilling.

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