I was recently working with Brian (not his real name), the founder and CEO of a decent-sized financial services company. Brian took pride in building the business from the ground up and achieving a certain dominance in the market. He surrounded himself with some very smart yet homegrown executives, and as the founder, he was very passionate about his business strategy.
Brian brought on a new COO, who was not an industry insider but very competent, to be the day-to-day executive while the founder plotted his next moves. When I met them for the first time, however, they shared concerns about whether the current team was the right one to take the business to the next level.
In order for the company to move forward, the team would need to:
• Encourage everyone to be a voice around the table (a huge shift for founders, as often they are the voice).
• Agree to “no sacred cows” (everything is open for discussion).
• Agree that majority rules (not an easy step for the founder).
I shared with the team that there are many different modes of communications. We agreed that everyone has their preferences and we should respect their individual styles.
To facilitate sometimes heated discussions, I introduced a simple yet powerful rule. I call it the "two-minute rule." Extroverts can only speak for two minutes, and introverts must speak for two minutes.
To clarify the difference between each: Extroverts get energized sharing their ideas and opinions and thinking out loud, so they are usually very vocal in meetings. Introverts, on the other hand, are energized by internalizing and thinking before sharing, so often, they don’t feel the need to share their opinions unless asked.
This can cause irritation on both sides. Extroverts feel like the introverts are secretive and play close to the vest, while introverts feel that extroverts are too chatty and don’t know when to stop talking.
The two-minute rule helps overcome this issue.
There's also the “active listening” rule, which ensures that while we want debate, it needs to be respectful debate, with true and honest listening for the purpose of understanding each other, without interruptions.
During a debate about whether the company above would keep its current business model or adopt a new one, I called upon every member to express their opinion by going around the table and again enforcing the two-minute rule.
I specifically asked one of the very smart executives who was the very quiet type, and by nature, an introvert, to share his opinion.
He was quiet for a while and then meekly shared his (brilliant) thoughts.
Eventually, we agreed to do a stealth-mode new model while keeping the old model alive until such a time when we felt we could discontinue the old model. Each team member agreed to their individual responsibility in achieving the desired results. We agreed to the guidelines they would follow, the resources they would each have, the accountabilities they would be held against and finally the consequences (good or bad) based on their performance.
Dr. Stephen Covey calls this the win-win agreement, or a DR GRAC agreement.
The founder now had the ultimate luxury of deciding his next steps, which he did execute on very successfully.
In his last book before his passing at age 80, Covey discussed The 3rd Alternative:
"It’s not my way or your way, it’s a third way, our way, the better way."
Here are some of the benefits:
• The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
• We celebrate differences.
• We value diversity.
Often, when I’m coaching a leadership team and their executives, there are differences of opinions, debates, discussions, disagreements, etc.
Yet most teams struggle with a formula on how to get the best out of their teams and how to disagree yet not become disagreeable for the purposes and benefits of the organizations.
Using the two-minute rule and the third alternative as described above can help a company move with its strategy to the next level.