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Straight Up Business: You Are the Setter, Not the Spiker (Neil McCarthy)

“Like volleyball, I focus on being the setter for others to get involved, not on being the one that is always trying to spike the ball by jumping high above your team, solving the problem with individual force and intellectualism,” says Neil McCarthy. “I try to ‘let go’ so that my clients can practice how to draw out self discovery and build trust in their teams.”

Neil McCarthy is a leadership coach and consultant in Seattle. His experience in coaching and interpersonal dynamics has accelerated adoption of LS with a large multi-national business client. He helps leaders and their teams make the transition to higher levels of performance, including managing diverse teams and multiple functions distributed around the globe.

Including More People in Coordinating Global Operations

One engineering group of 40 leaders—including a general manager, business manager, global support based in India, and five functional groups from technical operations—needed to plan and coordinate activities for the coming fiscal year. Normally this would happen in a typical meeting with just eight members of the senior team and be undertaken with relatively low expectations.

Neil jests in his conversation with the group leader, “We will collaborate by listening to PowerPoint presentations for hours followed by a frenzy of action planning in the last 30 minutes of the meeting.” Past experience suggests that clarity of commitment, ownership, and follow through will be sketchy.

This time around Neil proposed using What I Need From You (WINFY) and inviting the extended leadership team (40 members) into the conversation. The general manager and Neil had already started working on inclusion with the senior team. “It is not that difficult to shape next steps together with a larger group,” said Neil. A trusting relationship and a positive track record made the use of WINFY possible. They wanted to create a new conversation and spark creative relationships among the members. Both let go of knowing the specific outcomes in advance.

Shifting the Pattern to a Straight Up Conversation

In eight separate functional groups, two BIG “what I need from you to succeed” requests were drafted. The group leaders brought the requests to the inner circle of the fishbowl, asking each of the other seven functions for what they need. Meticulous notes were jotted down. The larger group looked on in awe. These were direct, straight to the point requests being made to each other, leader to leader.

During the debrief one participant said “I have never seen a conversation like this around here. I saw that just about everyone was on the edge of their seat the entire time.”

The pause between making a request and responding was shocking. The quality of listening and capturing the essence of each request was a big change. One participant said, “It was clean. No obfuscation. Straight up. Yes, no, I will try, and whatever stripped away the unessential.”

Another participant said, “Now I know why I never get what I need. The way my leader asked for what our group needs does not translate well among his peers. I am going to have to be very clear about what we ask for and how we ask for it.” Another participant said, “Now I know what is important for next year.”

As part of the WINFY debrief two different leaders in the group said, “I want to do this in my organization.” The general manager wants to use WINFY every six months to help his team stay aligned regarding needs.

Neil muses about why WINFY was so productive, “We don’t ask directly for what we need. Often, it is a long drawn-out conversation. We talk about and debate each aspect of the issue so much the essence of the request gets watered down to the point where it is meaningless and easy to agree to (just to end the conversation). It is also possible to neglect a request because it is not articulated clearly.” What appears to be a yes becomes a whatever in practice.

For Neil and his clients WINFY helped them to see this pattern in their interactions and then do something about it so they could get on with the work at hand. Business straight up.

“As a facilitator I use What I Need From You because it helps me get out of the middle. I am more able to practice non-attachment to a particular outcome or my own needs to be respected. My credibility as a consultant is not linked to a pre-determined outcome. Rather my contribution comes with structuring the conversation and working with what surprises unfold.”