Impulse 17: Digital Leadership – Creating a Climate of Openness and Trust

In today’s world of work, we are constantly faced with changing conditions and similar challenges. How do you arm yourself and your team to act with excellence in these shifting and demanding digital times?

The competence we need in order to answer these challenges successfully refers to the ability to communicate openly, pose the right questions, and be ready to receive feedback. Here are six tips on how to build these abilities with your team.

Tip #1: Ask the team

Hold a special 60-minute feedback team meeting once every quarter. Have each employee, including yourself, prepare answers to these three questions in advance:

  1. What is going well?
  2. What is not going so well?
  3. How good is our feedback culture, on a scale of one to ten (10 = best)? Between all team members including the boss.

Note the answers on moderation cards, then group the cards together and evaluate which are the most important themes. Give each employee two adhesive dots with which they can choose their most important topics.

Choose one or two topics at most that you will work on in the next three months. Then, set the next date for a feedback meeting three months hence, giving date, time and location.

In the interim, after six weeks, hold a team meeting to discuss what advances have been made in these areas. In that way you keep the focus on these two topics.

After three months hold the next meeting. Consider the progress, and then ask the three questions again: What is going well? What is not going so well? How good is our feedback culture in the team on a scale of one to ten? In that way you can keep up with important topics while significantly improving the communication and feedback culture in the team.

Tip #2: Take responsibility!

Make it a habit for every employee to ask every colleague once a year – including you, the boss – the following question:

“What can I do in order to improve our cooperation?”

In a company with seven employees, this means everyone would find a colleague once every two months to ask and learn about what they can do better.
To make sure this feedback process doesn’t slip everybody’s minds, I recommend putting up an A3 sheet in a central location with a matrix on it, onto which everyone can enter the dates of their discussions.

Tip #3 Put yourself on the line

Once a month in the team meeting, ask the following as the final point on the agenda:
“What have I done well as a leader this month?”
“What have I not done so well as a leader this month?

In that way you will regularly receive tips on what your employees want to see more from you, because it works well, and what they would like to be different. By the next month you should respond with thanks as well as concrete answers regarding what exactly you have changed. Also mention what you have purposefully not changed because the desired changes could not be enacted, for example due to other existing priorities. Through this regular feedback your employees will realize that, “Hey, our boss engages with us, listens to us, and implements our feedback.” At the same time, you will be receiving valuable information from your employees every month in the form of feedback.

Tip #4: Lessons learned

After each project hold a reflection or lessons-learned meeting. If you are working as a scrum team, then this should already be common practice. Yet I am always hearing from clients that these review meetings are not popular and sometimes fall by the wayside. Nevertheless, learning by review is essential for your future success.

In these meetings ask the following questions:
“What was good?”
“What didn’t go so well?”
“What have we learnt for the next project?”
“What exactly do we change right now?”

One of my clients even holds daily feedback sessions for their daily produced programs.

There are two rules for this:

  1. The youngest employee starts.
  2. Everyone says something that is positive and something that criticises.

Tip #5: The others

Get structured feedback from external sources or from other departments.

Think about who could provide useful feedback you. Then think about how you can ask these departments or individuals about your performance. In this way you will maintain a high level of customer orientation and regularly improve the quality of your work.

Tip # 6: The hot seat for everybody

This tip comes from a participant at one of my seminars. Introduce the concept of the hot seat. Once a week, say, 1 pm on Friday, an employee sits on the hot seat and receives feedback from their colleagues. What has he or she done well in the time since they last sat on the hot seat and in which areas could they still improve.

This is certainly a very intense way to give each other feedback. If you need to practice some of the other tips from this blog first and introduce this tip # 6.

So, there you have it. A variety of tips and possibilities to develop the competence to communicate openly, trust each other, and talk about some heavy yet critical issues with ease and strength. In that way you lay the foundation for dealing with the regularly shifting demands and challenges of our time. Questioning your own actions and finding better solutions will become an ingrained habit.

Success to you!

Markus Jotzo

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