Twenty-one Listening Tour Questions

A ‘Listening Tour’ is a way for leaders to engage their organization in a conversation.  The members of a leadership team or committee agree on a set of questions and commit to having conversations with a certain number of people. Listening Tours are a useful replacement or supplement to employee surveys.   (See our article on Leadership Listening Tours for more information.)

Good questions are vital to a successful Listening Tour.  Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

Before the Listening Tour… questions for the team to discuss:

  1. What’s the issue we’re focusing on?
  2. What is most perplexing and frustrating about [issue]? What don’t we understand… or wish we could figure out?
  3. What’s the ‘elephant in the room’ regarding [issue]? What do people think, but don’t talk about openly?
  4. With this in mind, what are three good, open-ended questions we could ask to get people talking (and thinking) about [issue]?
  5. Who will we talk to? Who is involved in [issue]?  Who has the most to say about [issue]?  Are there folks who are often overlooked?  How can we include them?

Good Listening Tour questions:

  1. How have you been affected by [issue]?
  2. What’s most frustrating or difficult about [issue] for you?
  3. When did we get [issue] right? Tell me about a time when [issue] wasn’t an issue.
  4. Who handles [issue] really well?What do they do that makes them stand out?
  5. How does your supervisor handle [issue]?What do they do well / not well?
  6. In your opinion, why is [issue] important to management? What does management really wantwhen it comes to [issue]?
  7. What’s the thing management doesn’t getabout [issue]?
  8. What would you do about [issue] if you were in charge?
  9. What’s your role in [issue]? What do you need to change to address [issue]?
  10. Who has the biggest influence over the way people think and feel about [issue]?

After the Listening Tour… questions for the team to discuss:

  1. How did it go? How many conversations did you have?  (If you didn’t do the assignment, what got in the way? What out-prioritized doing this work?)
  2. How did people react? What did you learn from the way this went?
  3. What did people say? What stood out to you?  What themes did you notice?
  4. How do we contribute to people thinking and feeling this way?
  5. What could we change about the way we work in order to change the way people think about this issue? We’re too busy for any new or extra work… what are we already doing that we could do differently?
  6. What other questions do we have?What else do we want to learn about [issue]?

Interested in learning more?  Ready to add Listening Tours to your team’s tool kit?  We’re ready to help. 

About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at

Surveys stink: leadership ‘listening tours’ are a better solution

Many organizations rely on surveys to understand how employees think and feel.  But surveys rarely lead to effective action or lasting change.  Management teams get mired in analyzing the results, debating the meaning of various numbers, and arguing over what people really meant by their responses.

There’s a better way: it’s called conversation.  In a perfect world, we’d have conversations with our fellow employees every day – but many of us are stuck in meetings talking to each other.  ‘Listening tours’ are a great way for mangers to get out to the front-line lines and have meaningful conversations with a large cross-section of the team.

How to conduct a listening tour:

  • As a team, select a topic for your listening tour.  It’s useful to focus on ‘tough’ issues: the ones that resist solution, or are especially frustrating.
  • As a team, pick three or four good, open-ended questions about this issue.  The best questions will require thought and self-examination.  (See our list of ‘Twenty-one Listening Tour Questions‘ for ideas.)
  • Each team member commits to talking to five to ten people before the next team meeting.   You may want to divvy up the organization and make sure someone is talking to folks in each department or area.
  • Do it!  Set aside time in your calendar – or better, cancel a less-than-useful meeting and spend the time out in the field/shop.
  • Talk to team-members:  use your best judgment about who to talk to and when.  Make the other person feel comfortable: start with small talk; if necessary, introduce yourself; ask how the person is doing; explain that you’re looking for help and you want to hear the truth.
  • Ask the questions and then listen!  The other person might not answer right away.  It’s okay — let the silence hang.  They may give you a ‘safe’ answer. It’s okay – challenge them to give you more. Whatever they say, respond with, “Thank you… tell me more…. what else?”  Don’t worry about taking notes – just listen.
  • Rinse and repeat.  Be sure to talk to a variety of people in different locations.
  • When the team reconvenes, discuss what you heard, what surprised you and what new questions have come up. Beware the tendency to jump to solutions.  Slow down and make sure you really understand how people think / feel before getting into action.

Why this helps:

  • By asking questions, and listening, you learn what other people are thinking.
  • By having conversations with folks, you develop relationships and open up lines of communication.
  • By asking about specific topics, you raise awareness and focus attention on that issue.  Simply asking the question often leads to a change in the organization.

If you’re part of a leadership team, safety committees and employee engagement councils – any team responsible for influencing the way people think and feel – listening tours are a useful alternative or supplement to employee surveys.

Interested in learning more?  Ready to add Listening Tours to your tool kit?  We’re ready to help. 

About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at


Make your Safety Committee matter: six steps to business NOT as usual

Many states require companies to have a Safety Committee that meets monthly to assess safety performance, review incidents and resolve safety concerns.  Unfortunately these teams are often ineffective  — meetings are dull, perfunctory and poorly-attended; the same issues are raised month after month; while the safety manager leaves with a bushel of new action items after each meeting, little changes before the next meeting and committee members become frustrated and disillusioned.

At Humanus Solutions, we urge clients to use safety committees to foster leadership and personal responsibility, while also fulfilling a regulatory requirement. Here are six tips for turbo-charging your Safety Committee.

  • Commitment from the ‘top’: your safety committee will do exactly — and only — what company leaders expect.  If you want your committee to meet the regulatory requirement, it will… but that’s all it will do.  If you want it to change the culture, cause breakthroughs and invigorate leadership this expectation must be set by the owner!
  • Distinguish ‘technical problems’ and ‘adaptive challenges’: technical problems can be solved with a decision, an answer, a change in process or equipment; adaptive challenges require people to change the way they think, feel and act.  Worker safety is primarily an adaptive issuebut most safety committees focus on technical issues.   If you want your safety committee to make a difference, make sure they are working on bothtechnical problems and adaptive challenges.
  • Ask, “What’s the real problem here?”  One way to balance attention on technical and adaptive is to look for the “issue behind the issue”.  When a problem is brought to the safety committee, ask ,”Why is this being raised to us?  What prevented team-members from owning and resolving this issue themselves?”  So long as your employees rely on the safety committee to make safety decisions, the employees will never be responsible for safety.
  • Ask, “How are we part of this?” There’s a tendency for safety committee members to see their job as making change ‘out there’, ‘to them’, ‘on-site’.  The best safety committees recognize that safety behaviors on the job-site are a reflection of behaviors in the management trailer and home-office.  When something goes wrong, a good question for the safety committee to ask is, “How have we — each of us — contributed to the conditions that lead to this incident?”
  • Unintended consequences of safety metrics. OSHA mandates safety committees review worker safety metrics, but this often has unintended consequences.  Attention on the rate of safety incidents results in pressure to not report incidents, rather than eliminating hazards; attention on the severity of injuries drives focus on case management rather than caring for the injured person and learning from what went wrong.  If your safety committee looks at metrics, do it very briefly, view them with caution and skepticism, and frequently ask, “What are people likely to in order to influence this number?”
  • Beware ‘action items’. Another way to balance attention on technical and adaptive work is to resist the tendency to assign action items.  Most safety committee meetings generate assignments and requests for the EHS managers.  The best committees recognize that the safety department doesn’t own safety — line-management does.    In place of traditional action items assigned to individuals, we recommend giving all team members the same homework — usually a question to ask or conversation to have with folks in the field.   See our article about ‘Listening Tours’ for more information.

It doesn’t take much to fulfill the regulatory requirement for a safety committee.  But if that’s all you set out to do, that’s all you’ll accomplish.  Making a realdifference in safety requires a safety committee willing to willing to look beyond the usual technical solutions; willing to examine their role in the behavior of others; and most of all, willing to do business-not-as usual.

Interested in learning more?  Ready to make your safety committee matter?  We’re ready to help. 

Developing Front-line Leaders: What Really Works

This month I’ve been asking construction managers about frontline leadership.  Specifically, I’ve asked about leadership development for foremen: what’s your approach, what’s working, what’s missing, what have you figured out and what are you up against.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Developing leaders requires sustained attention.  Some companies organize annual off-site meetings for front-line leaders, with keynote speakers, and required reading.  But lasting change requires continuing the conversation after the event ends, applying the speaker’s key ideas and using language from the books.  This isn’t easy in companies preoccupied with rapid growth.
  • When it comes to developing foremen, no one is more important than superintendents.  If the boss doesn’t expect me to change my behavior, I’m unlikely to take on new ideas from a training session or keynote speech.  Unless a development process engages superintendents, changing the behavior of foremen is difficult.
  • And, unfortunately, most superintendents are not inclined to develop foremen.  As graduates of the sink-or-swim, learn-by-failing, school of hard knocks, they have little interest in coaching and mentoring.

I assumed my conversations about foremen and leadership would give me ideas for topics I could include in our Foremen Development Program.  I hoped to learn how to structure training and field coaching more effectively.  And I did get some good feedback on these points.

But what companies really need is help sustaining attention on leadership development.  It’s not a question of what to teach foremen, but rather, how to help managers fit coaching and mentoring into their already over-full schedule.

So what’s the answer?

If you want to improve your organization’s efforts to develop front-line leaders, here are five steps that really work.

  1. Commitment and attention from the top. Until it’s important to you, it won’t be important to the people who work for you.  If you want your organization to get better at developing leaders, the first step is to demonstrate this interest by talking about it, encouraging it, and developing leaders yourself.  Want your Construction Manager to champion mentoring?  Start mentoring that person before you ask them to mentor others.
  2. Regular, sustained conversation with superintendents. If you want to reach foremen, start by engaging the people who manage and direct the foremen on a daily basis. This can’t be a one-off! Superintendents who have never been mentored or coached will be uncomfortable mentoring and coaching others, so it’s going to take some time to convince and equip them to do this work.
  3. Focus on specific, observable behaviors or moves, rather than attributes and qualities.  This is vital.  Many managers in construction see leadership as a personal attribute – someone has it or they don’t.  Whether or not it’s true, this belief undermines efforts to develop leaders. I believe leadership is a series of moves, behaviors and habits – specific, visible actions we can teach and expect folks to take.  This is a much easier conversation to have with superintendents, too.  Rather than asking, “what qualities do we need to develop?” instead ask, “what do we need our foremen to do… and how are you going to make sure they do it?” For more on this, see our article ‘Miracle, Moves and Moments’.
  4. Piggyback on existing meetings.  If you want to spend more time with your team discussing leadership development, don’t add a new meeting. You’ve already got too many – and when time gets short, the new meetings will be the first to be cancelled. Instead, incorporate conversations about leadership development into the meetings you have every day/ week / month without fail.  If developing leaders is important, demonstrate your commitment by carving out time to talk about it alongside the rest of your business.
  5. Talk about leadership development outside of meetings. Putting something on the agenda at your staff meeting is important – but if you really want to let folks know how seriously to take this, talk to them about it over lunch.  Make leadership a theme in the conversations you have as you walk the job site.  For ideas on how to start conversations, see our piece ‘Twenty Questions to Get Folks Talking About Leadership‘.

I’ve learned at great deal from my conversations about leadership development and we’re going to upgrade our Front-line Leadership Development Program.  But you don’t need to hire a consultant like me, or a training program like the one my company offers – you have what you need to do this yourself.  If developing front-line leaders is important to you and your organization, get to work on it!  Talk about it, ask questions, spend time at meetings – the tools you use to manage the rest of your business apply here as well.  When you demonstrate your commitment and intention, your team will line up behind you.

Twenty Questions to Get Folks Talking About Front-line Leadership

Questions to ask anyone:

  1. Who was the best boss you ever had? What did they do that set them apart from the rest?
  2. Who stands out around here as a leader? How do they influence you and the rest of the team?
  3. What makes someone a ‘leader’? Do you have to have a certain job title or position, or can anyone do it?

Questions to ask foremen or front-line leaders:

  1. Why were you selected for this job? What set you apart from the other candidates?
  2. What’s your favorite part of this position? Which parts of this job do you love?
  3. What’s the toughest part of this job? What’s been the toughest lesson to learn?
  4. What are your strengths as a leader? What do you do especially well?
  5. What do you want to be better at? Where are you still learning and improving?
  6. What’s the best way to support a new foreman or supervisor? Was there training or coaching you wish you had?  What support was most useful to you?

Questions to ask superintendents or managers who oversee front-line leaders:

  1. Who is the strongest leader within your team?What sets them apart?
  2. What do the best front-line leaders do differently?It’s easy to talk about personal qualities and attitudes – but what are the behaviors and habits that make someone a good leader?
  3. What’s your approach to coaching and mentoring folks on their leadership skills? What’s been your greatest success in developing a leader who works for you?
  4. What sort of support did you get when you got into supervision – did you get any training or was it ‘sink or swim’?What’s the best way?  What can we do to develop the next generation of leaders?
  5. Which of the folks who work for you should take your place when you move on? What do they still need to learn before they’re ready to take over for you?
  6. If you had to appoint a new foremen or supervisor today, who would you choose? What do they still need to learn before they’re ready to take that step?

Questions to ask people who report to you:

  1. Give me some feedback on my leadership.What do I do well – what’s my biggest strength?  What are my blind spots, or things I need to do better?
  2. If you had to guess, what’s most important to me when it comes to work? What’s the thing I really care about at the end of the day?  How do you know?  How do I demonstrate that?
  3. How are we doing as a team? What do we need to change to be better / safer?
  4. In your opinion, who is another supervisor around here who I should learn from?
  5. What can I do better or more or differently to support you and the team?

Twenty Questions About Start-of-Shift meetings

Questions to ask during the meeting.

[Start by asking about safety.]

  1. How are you feeling? Turn to the person next to you and tell them what’s on your mind, distracting you, or pissing you off this morning.
  2. How did we do safety-wise yesterday? Anyone pickup a nick or scratch?  What was the closest you came to getting hurt?
  3. What did we do right, safety-wise? Who had someone help out?  Who spoke up?

[After you read the days’ announcements.]

  1. Tell me what you just heard — what’s the key point there?

[After you review the plan and assign work.]

  1. What’s the most-dangerous thing we’re going to do today – the thing that might get someone killed? What will we do to make sure that goes right?
  2. What’s the task we’re likely be complacent about today—the thing we do all the time, but which will bite us if we’re not careful.
  3. What’s your plan if something goes wrong? Who are you going to call?
  4. What’s one thing you’re going to do today to make sure you go home in one piece?

[Before the meeting ends.]

  1. What needs to go right today for us to meet our goal? What do you need to focus on?
  2. What help do you need today?What would make your day easier / better?

Questions to ask the leader at the end of a meeting:

  1. How’d that meeting go for you? Better, worse, or about the same as usual?
  2. What’s your goal for your daily meetings? Why do you think we do them?
  3. How do you prepare for the meeting?
  4. What were the best tailgate meetings you’ve seen during your career? What made them so good?
  5. What can I or the other bosses do to help you make these meetings go better?
  6. What can you do to make your meetings better?

Questions to ask at a foremen or superintendent meeting:

  1. Who runs the best start-of-shift meetings around here?What sets them apart?
  2. What do you do wellat your morning meetings?How can you improve?
  3. How much of the talking did you do at your meeting this morning?How can you get more people involved?
  4. What happens when you’re not here – who runs your team meeting?What do they do differently, better, or worse than you?

Foremen! Make your start-of-shift meetings matter

It’s up to foremen to ensure their crews start the day right.  Most companies have start-of-shift meetings to share information, assign work, and make sure everyone is ready to go.

Unfortunately, these meetings are often dull and disengaging. Teams stand around while the foreman reads from his or her clipboard; the foreman asks if anyone has any questions – no one ever does.  Folks don’t switch ‘on’ until the meeting ends.  Sound familiar?

You can do better.  With a little effort, you can set your team up for success as they start their day.

Three prerequisites for great start-of-shift meetings


Effective daily meetings require preparation — and clarity of intention.

  • Gather your thoughts before your crew arrives — what are one or two key points you need to make today?
  • Choose a good location. Conduct the meeting as close to the work area as possible — but avoid locations with too much noise, traffic or distractions.
  • Set clear expectations — team members who arrive late or engage in side-talk undermine the effectiveness of the meeting for everyone. It is your job to call folks out for this type of behavior.


Preparation is important, but the content of the meeting must be meaningful and relevant.

  • Always start with safety. Share information about incidents and near misses from the day before; ask team members, “how can we avoid that happening again?” If yesterday was a safe day, ask, “what did we do right?… who spoke up or helped a co-worker be more-safe?” Starting the meeting with safety reinforces your organization’s value for a commitment to worker safety above all else.
  • Introduce newcomers and visitors. Invest a few minutes and ask new folks to introduce themselves and share something about their interests outside of work. When team members know one another they are more likely to speak up and support each other during the workday.
  • Share announcements. If you have to read something aloud to your audience, be sure to follow-up with a few words of your own. Re-state the key points, and ask team members to comment on what they heard: “what was your take-away from that?”, “what’s the key thing to remember?”
  • Review progress made yesterday. This doesn’t need to be detailed — but say something about how yesterday went to demonstrate that the work the team does matters — that other people notice the work being done here. 
  • Review the plan for today. Again, this needn’t be exhaustive — especially if you’ll be giving detailed instructions to individuals later– but say enough about the goals for the day that the team understands their work matters — that other people are counting on them doing their part.
  • Ask, “how can we help each other today?” This is more effective than asking, “does anyone need anything?” or “does anyone have any questions?” Encourage people to offer help to each other, and praise people for speaking up and requesting support from others.
  • Close with safety. It is vital, especially at the end of the meeting to talk about safety in personal terms. Avoid mentioning rules and compliance — instead focus on the hazards team members will face and the effect an injury would have on them and their families.


The way a meeting is conducted can overcome (or undermine) preparation and content. The best meetings engage people.

  • Ask good questions. When we ask ‘closed’ questions — ones require only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — the team will usually give whichever answer will get the meeting over sooner. “Does anyone have anything to add?”… no. “Do you understand everything I just said?”… yes. ‘Open’ questions require people to say something, “When went well yesterday?”… “How is someone likely to be injured today?” When we get people talking, we require them to think… and increase their level of engagement and personal responsibility.
  • Let others do the talking. Even the most engaging speakers lose their audiences’ attention after a few minutes. Re-capture people’s attention by sharing speaking duties. If you lead the safety portion of the meeting, ask someone else to read the day’s announcements, and so on.
  • Balanced feedback. It’s okay to say, “We didn’t do well yesterday… we must do better.” Hearing that message makes the praise, when it comes, more impactful. But if all your team hears from your is criticism, they will tune you out.
  • Laughter is good. We want our teams focused at the start of the shift, but sharing a joke or some good natured ribbing is a great way to build camaraderie and improve the morale. If humor isn’t your strong suit, ask someone else to help. Giving the ‘class clown’ the responsibility for getting the crew to share a laugh is a great way to channel their behavior in a more constructive direction.

Your daily meetings are ‘rituals’ — the things we talk about and how we talk communicates what matters to you and how we expect people to behave. If you want your teams to be engaged, energized and focused, start your day off right with a meeting that matters.

Interested in learning more? Ready to make your daily meetings matter? We’re ready to help.  

About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at 

Are your teams’ start-of-shift meetings working?

Do you attend your teams’ daily start-of-shift meetings?  Are you getting good value for the time and money your folks’ spend there each day?

Whether you call it a tailgate meeting, toolbox talk, daily stand-up or team huddle — the goal is the same: share information, set the plan for the day and ensure everyone is ready for work.   When done well, these meetings are efficient, engaging and energizing. They ensure communication from the top, raise concerns from the frontlines and get everyone on the same page as the day begins.

When done poorly, these meetings are dull, disengaging and demoralizing. Memos are read aloud, the same old safety moment is repeated yet again and everyone stands with arms crossed and eyes glazed waiting for this check-the-box exercise to be over.

Your daily start-of-shift meetings are a “ritual” — they communicate what matters to and is expected by your organization. With just a bit of attention and effort, they can be the cornerstone of your employee engagement, culture change and performance improvement efforts.

Assessing your daily meetings

Are your daily meetings sending the message you want your employees to hear? Here are four steps you can start today to make sure:

Step 1: Get your fellow leaders on-board.  Although you can do this alone, it’ll work better if you do it with a group.  Gather the people who manage the folks who lead your daily meetings.  If foremen lead daily meetings, then gather up the General Foremen or Superintendents.

The assignment for these folks: observe every daily meeting at least once; speak to every person who leads a daily meeting; report back ready to discuss what you saw and heard.

Don’t go to the meetings as a group – that’ll cause too much upset. Instead, work alone or in pairs.  Agree to a timeframe: we will reconvene on such-and-such date having observed every team at least once.

Step 2:  Observe the meetings.  Arrive early. Greet the foreman leading the meeting and explain that you’re just sitting in.  If at all possible, don’t draw attention to yourself.  As the meeting gets going, pay attention to the following:

  • How does the meeting start and end? Does it start and end on time?  What are the first and last topics discussed?
  • Who does most of the talking? Can everyone hear?  Is there participation or interaction during the meeting?
  • What’s the mood or energy like during the meeting? Are folks ‘present’ or are they sitting back waiting for the meeting to be over.  Are they energized and engaged?
  • What are the key messages delivered during the meeting? Is the message clear and concise, or muddled and confused?
  • If this meeting was your only experience of this organization, what conclusions would you draw about how this organization does business?

Step 3:  Speak to the person who led the meeting.  Foremen are usually busy having follow-up conversations immediately after the meeting ends – so hang around a bit, and when the time seems right ask the following questions:

  • How’d that meeting go for you? Better, worse, or about the same as usual?
  • What’s your goal or intention for your daily meetings?
  • How do you prepare for the meeting?
  • What were the best tailgate meetings you’ve seen during your career?What made them so good?
  • What can I or the other bosses do to help you make these meetings go better?

Step 4:  Reconvene with your fellow leaders and discuss what you saw.

  • What stood out? Any surprises – good or bad?
  • What’s the messageour meetings are sending – not just what gets said but how it gets said?
  • Who were the ‘bright spots’? Which foremen (or meeting leaders) stood out as better than the rest?  What did they dothat the other meeting leaders didn’t?  (Note: focus on the actions the best performers take, and not on their personal qualities!)
  • What do we, as leaders, want to do to improve these meetings? (See our article on Leading Effective Start of Shift Meetings for ideas.)

Simply demonstrating interest will make a difference.  When team members see you paying attention to these meetings, they’ll begin to pay more attention themselves.  Just asking questions about the meetings often leads to improvement.

Here’s a pro-tip:  ask yourself, “How am Ipart of this situation? What is it that my fellow leaders and I are doing that influences how these meetings are run each day?”  You may find that the foremen and superintendents are following your lead, and running meetings precisely the way they think you want them run!

Your organization’s daily meetings – your ‘rituals’ – send a powerful message to your employees.  This is your chance to set the tone each morning, and ensure folks start their day with focus and professionalism.  Don’t default to business-as-usual: give these meetings the attention they deserve.

Interested in learning more? Ready to make your daily meetings matter? We’re ready to help.  

About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at

The Heart of Leadership

I have seen in myself (and in others) a tendency to overlook people. I often think of my business as an engine that can be tuned and modified. I forget that performance happens through people, not processes. The best process in the world doesn’t work when the people involved don’t feel engaged or interested.

I have found in myself (and in others) a desire to ignore the complexity of situations, and propose simple, easy-to-implement solutions. My urge to take action — “don’t just stand there, do something!” — has me chase solutions based on what I can do, rather than what’s needed. I’m pretty handy at the computer, so I make project plans and track how far behind schedule we are — rather than addressing the reasons work isn’t getting done.

I have noticed that I (and others) often propose solutions involving “them” before looking at “me”. It’s easy to talk at (not with) folks about how they can do better. And when the tables are turned, and someone tells me what I need to do, I usually nod and say, “you’re right, I’ll do better” without really meaning it — because that’s easier than pushing back and challenging my colleague to look at their own contribution.

I often see myself (and others) attempt to predict the future, explain the past and above all else maintain the illusion that ‘I know what I’m doing’. If I admit I don’t trust my understanding of the past, or my ability to predict what’s next, people might begin to wonder just why the heck they keep me around here. Or worse, I (and others) might find there’s reason to fear being unmasked as an imposter.

The net result is I (and others) can spend too much time thinking about systems, policies, rules and procedures to control the behavior of other people and ensure desired results. Time and time again, I (and others) find this approach to be insufficient. After all these years, what makes me (us) think that this time the same old solution will produce a different result?


I have also seen in myself (and in others) a longing for connection, respect and trust. I find profound satisfaction in being part of something larger than myself. I have learned that I (and others) have the capacity to trust, include and listen to others — and 99 times out of 100, the results exceed our expectations.

I have also found in myself (and in others) a recognition that the world in general, and people in particular, are dynamic, non-deterministic and chaotic. My efforts to control and explain are doomed — but that doesn’t mean I’m helpless. When I (and others) accept things are more complex than we’ll ever know, we can still find ways to get things done… we just have to ask more questions, listen more closely, and let other people help.

I have seen in myself (and others) the power to choose to see myself as the cause, the source, the author of everything that goes on around me. This isn’t factually accurate, but it’s consistently useful. When I (and others) set blame aside and ask, ‘what’s my role in this… how am I responsible… what can I do to respond?’ things go much better.

I have glimpsed in myself (and others) acceptance that our perception of the world is deeply limited. I can’t know what the future holds, and I’ll never really understand the past, but I (and others) can move forward with a bit of trust… of faith… and do the things that seem most-right right-now.

The net result is I (and others) can spend our time to thinking about people and how we can connect with and serve them. Time and time again, I (and others) find this approach to be both effective and fulfilling. After all these years, what makes me (us) forget to put people at the center of our organizations and our lives?

Organizational “rituals”: make your meetings matter

Too often the things we do most often at work are the least effective.

Think about the meetings your team has each and every day, week or month — are people engaged or going through the motions? If your organization has a monthly safety meeting — is there genuine learning going on, or is the focus ‘sign the roster so you don’t have to sit through this again‘? What about new employee orientations — are you welcoming people to your team or asking them to sit through a day of crummy PowerPoint slides?

We call these activities “meetings”, “reviews”, and “orientations” but we should think of them as “rituals“. The meetings we hold most consistently communicate to team-members: this is important to us… this is what we value… this is how we expect you to think, feel and act around here.

You know you could do better, but who has the time and energy? Who’s going to risk upsetting their boss, HR, the safety department or ‘corporate’ by saying, “Stop. We’re wasting our time and sending the wrong message. Let’s do better?

You should.

Here’s the thing: a lousy weekly staff meeting is a waste of time… but week after week of going through the motions and keeping your mouth shut is corrosive. When I tolerate less-than-my-best in one area, I’m more likely to tolerate it in others. When I keep my frustrations to myself, I make it harder for others to express themselves. Before too long, that lousy staff meeting begins to show up as lousy performance.

It’s time to take on the counter-productive “rituals” we’ve been tolerating!

Make your “rituals” matter

Start by asking, which activities engage the most people, the most often, the most consistently? These are your rituals: start with them.

Now ask yourself, what’s the intentionandwhat’s the opportunityof this activity? How do we want people to think and feel, what do we want them to know and do, as the result of participating in this activity? Redesign your “ritual” to create these outcomes.

If you want people to feel engaged, make your “rituals” engaging: spend less time talking at people and more time talking with them — ask questions that prompt conversation. If you want open lines of communication, so make sure your “rituals” remove barriers to communication: make sure people know each other’s names and maybe a bit about what they’re up to. If you want people to be responsiblefor their work, involve them in leading the meeting — rotate responsibility for leading the meeting, and call on people to participate.

It’s time to take on what you’ve been tolerating

If you or your team are going to do something every day, week or month, the last thing you want to do is model resignation and surrender to the status quo. Make these meetings — these “rituals” —matter  .And more importantly, show your team what it looks like to speak up and stand up for quality and effectiveness. If you know you could and should do better… do it!