Leadership Skill: Mastering Context

CONTEXT? What’s context? It’s the set of circumstances that shapes an event, as in, “You’ve got to understand the context.” In meetings, most of us react blindly to context — but people who really know team building craft it!

An example

I’ve just come from a team-building meeting that had abundant opportunities to fail — yet it didn’t.

The participants (who traveled from different cities) hadn’t been together for six weeks. Each person was involved in major organization transitions. Each person had significant and interdependent “fires” to fight in the organization. Their meeting time had been halved by the leader due to a change in his schedule — despite the fact that team members had previously agreed they needed the full time. And, on top of that, three members announced they had to be absent for portions of the meeting for other urgent business.

So, how did this team keep their meeting from failing altogether? First, instead of diving hurriedly into content, they spent the initial 20 percent of their meeting ritually crafting a team building context — a supportive vessel — within which to succeed.

Here’s what they did

1. Pre-meeting shared reality: This team had already established task clarity and agreements, a meeting history with action items, and a list of left-over agenda items. Via e-mail, prior to the meeting, they circulated and reviewed a “living document,” which included all of these.

2. Environment: One member brought treats, another pair arranged furniture in the meeting room, and two more prepared shared displays for recording — all just the way the team liked things.

3. Meeting start: Check-in: In turn, each member briefly summarized what was on his/her mind coming into the meeting, all that needed to be cleared in order to be mentally present for this meeting. Each ended this ritual by declaring, “I’m in.” Others responded, “Welcome!”

4. Meeting process: Wins! Each member reported his/her wins since their last meeting. (A “win” is an intention that has been met; it can be of any magnitude. See this recent post. Wins signal progress and offer valuable perspective.)

5. Meeting process: Outcomes: Participants flipcharted their desired outcomes for the meeting. Whatever results anyone wanted went up on the chart. Once completed, this chart put their immediate motivations “on the table.”

6. Agenda: To the leftover content from the last meeting, and the previously submitted content for this meeting, individuals added new content in the form of agenda items. Then they prioritized the agenda and budgeted available time across items they agreed HAD TO be accomplished in order to “ship” the meeting.

And “ship” the meeting they did, with great satisfaction and time to spare. What do you do in team building meetings when you’re under pressure with tons of content to get through?

On a personal level, consider all the opportunities you have to be master of your own context

  • Do your physical surroundings support and please you?
  • Does your home, car, appliances, equipment, and tools improve your effectiveness?
  • Do your daily habits and rituals propel you forward?
  • Do your relationships work for you?

Do you recognize what sort of context puts you at your best? And do you take responsibility for crafting that context and placing yourself in it? Keep those six steps to create a well-defined context in mind the next time you fear a meeting might be falling apart.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Master leadership or build a responsible team (or family) with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

Posted in Leadership on 04/20/2011 01:58 am
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