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In every company’s evolution there are times when a critical mass of conflicts and unwillingness to listen to each other seemingly kills the last hope for a peaceful resolution. Why is this happening? Who’s right, who’s wrong?… tons of questions but there is no time for scrutiny, the entire working day is filled with a routine workload. You dive into management manuals, try to mitigate problems with some administrative matters, then with some “carrots”  – still nothing works. Finally it comes to a point when people’s engagement drops to a degree when it becomes a real management nightmare and a true hindrance for the business.

And here I am, with another conflict on my hands… it wasn’t just another conflict, it was more a systemic crisis in the company. On the outside all seemed wonderful, business was growing but something has drastically changed internally. Everything felt tight, people were fighting for space, people stopped understanding each other, and tension reigned in the office. Everyone had tons of reasons not to do what their peers suggested. My VP’s exerted extra pressure on people and it lead to the unthinkable – the people I started the business with started looking for another jobs.

I said to myself, “That’s it, I must try that Circle approach” and called for an urgent meeting of the senior staff. They all gathered in the conference room and I announced, “Dear colleagues, now we will play a game.” I saw perplexity in their eyes. I continued, “The game has a real challenge but we can conquer it in about 1 hour. Agree?” – their heads sluggishly nodded, eyes conveyed suspicion and cynicism.

All right, here are the rules. I will facilitate and monitor their observance. All ranks and authorities are void now – everyone is equal. No interruptions, no arguments. We do not debate but add our opinions to the common space. Everyone must speak. We sit in the circle and the center of it is the space where we collect our thoughts – this is our thought bank. So, let’s start. Our goal is to create a new office layout so that all employees felt satisfied and it must optimally serve business purposes. I will start first, so you’ll see how it works. I also have one voice and it is equal to yours.”

Then I shared my idea how to reshape the office space and use the freed up space for the common use. “Common use” was the keyword and I tried to put emphasis on it. After my 2 minutes, everything went as usual – everyone delivered their own, very well justified point of view. We went through the first round, everyone spoke, and surprisingly the rules were more or less observed.

I continued, “Let’s try to figure out what has transpired, what have we gained in our common bank. We have 10 people and 11 suggestions and they are all different. How is that possible? Let’s try to understand why we got such result?”

Head of our legal department raised her hand and said, “You know, I think the problem is in us, we always want to push our own agenda and don’t want to listen to anyone even if their solution could be better and would benefit the company… just because it’s not mine. That means we hold ourselves higher than the business and all who works here.”

I was shocked; she just hit the nail on the head. Wow! The circle somehow made her say it. Interesting…

Well, people, do you agree?” 
Now I heard more cheerful “Yes.” “Then we start the 2nd round. Now let’s imagine that you have to come up with a solution for the most dear person to you, for your child or for your parents. And, your solution must be truly sincere otherwise other will notice your untruthfulness and that may ruin the circle.”

Not everyone one happened to be sincere but those who did created such a warm atmosphere that it “melted” the ice in their relationships. People truly began to get out of the state “for myself.” It felt like a miracle.

In result, we discovered new facts that people didn’t want to share before or even deliberately blocked. By taking in consideration these new facts from the new, unusual (like for dearest person) position we were able to come up with an optimal solution for the business as well as for all employees.

I looked at the watch – 2.5 hours passed but people didn’t want to leave. My EVP got so passionate that he offered to share his office with someone else. People were very excited about this new approach, saying, “We can really solve any problem this way…, maybe even resolve personal issues.”  That was a beginning of building a brand new environment in the company.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn blog