Creating a high-performance team doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you have inherited a troubled team, demoralized and fractured by strife. People on a troubled team have pent-up grievances and frustrations. These teams can’t move forward until those issues are addressed.

This blog suggests a way to make a breakthrough for a troubled team: a “ventilation-amnesty meeting.” Such a session can be a huge step forward in removing the blocks your employees have to moving forward.

Here’s the process:

  • Assemble the team around a table in a closed-door room for privacy
  • Say you truly want to hear all their work-related issues--everything that troubles them from the trivial to the titanic, even if it is about you or senior management
  • Promise that there will be no retribution against anyone—and follow up on that commitment
  • Go around the table, having each person state an issue briefly (no long diatribes); note that it is okay for participants to pass until they are ready to speak
  • Write the issues on a flip chart without comment (except to ask for clarifications)
  • Hang the flip chart pages visibly around the room for everyone to see
  • Keep going around the table until everyone has passed three times consecutively (some breaks may be necessary)

This cathartic process gets everything out into the open. It is emotionally exhausting. Be prepared for some surprises that may be hurtful to you and others. Those issues are their perceptions, true or false, and you need to know them.

Then collectively put priorities on the issues (A, B, C is fine). Put the C’s on hold and ask for volunteers to work on the A’s. B’s will be dealt with after the A’s (unless they are easy to fix). Volunteer yourself to attack some of the issues with a promise to report back on progress at defined dates. Ask the other volunteers who are working on problems for their plans to report back to the team on progress until the issue is resolved. This step shows that you are deadly serious about addressing and resolving their issues. It will go a long way to defuse their concerns and open them up to move forward. Make sure you follow up on the issues all the way through to resolution.

Now comes the start of building the high-performance team. Indicate it is imperative that the team collectively define a set of shared values to guide their behavior. Values like: Fairness, Accountability, Integrity, or Respect. (See our website for a list of values: http://triplecrownleadership.com/resources/.)

An ideal set of shared values numbers four to six words (with phrases or brief sentences clarifying them) that can be remembered by all with an acronym (e.g., FAIR for Fairness, Accountability, Integrity, and Respect).

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As a group, brainstorm a draft list of shared values. Indicate it will be circulated to others and refined over time.

Now the critical step to move forward: Indicate they need to grant each other (and you) amnesty for all past transgressions, and you will do the same. The team can’t move forward until they stop holding grudges and looking to settle scores.

They need to all agree to operate by these shared values going forward, holding each other—and you—accountable for doing so. When they do hold you accountable to the values, publicly thank them to reinforce the commitment to living and leading by the values. The worst thing is for breaches in values to go unaddressed, as that will cause mistrust and cynicism.

If someone can’t agree, then they should see you afterwards. You will explain why this is so important until they agree, or you will arrange to have them work elsewhere because all members of your team will operate by these shared values.

Core Concept: A ventilation meeting, generating shared values and granting amnesty, is a great start to turning a troubled team around.