BOARDROOM DYNAMICS BY TOMASZ MNICH — SCAPEGOATING VS. EMPATHY IN SHAPING RESPECT AND TRUST IN TOP TEAMS

SCAPEGOATING VS. EMPATHY IN SHAPING RESPECT & TRUST IN TOP TEAMS

“That is scapegoating. The team finds one person to blame for. Others feel safe.” — a Head of HR said.

Top management of a financial institution gathered together in a conference room outside the company. The CEO expected the team to leave all operation issues aside. She wanted to concentrate discussion on the future vision and strategy. Last quarter was really difficult for the organization and the team. The growth of business, regulatory issues and all related operational challenges forced the team to work really hard. They have worked under a big pressure.

“You are making lots of problems! Why do you constantly rise the same issue? Just solve it yourself” — Mark, the Head of Sales said to Patrick, the CFO.
“I agree, any time we are talking about strategy you are drugging us down” — the Chief of Marketing commented.

Other team members, together with the CEO nodded. Only the Head of HR and the PR Director were showing signs of disagreement with what was happening. Discussions continued. The concern of the CFO was left ignored.

“Yes, but we are really not discussing serious challenges here. We should concentrate on the market demands. Numbers show clearly that we are aiming at a wrong direction” — once again the CFO tried to raise very important issue.

Mark, the Head of Sales got frustrated. He wanted to talk about new products and a way to sell them. He expected everybody to comply with his own ideas. He felt great opportunities ahead.

“You rather focus more on growing the business. If I were the CFO I would treat Sales Division as my internal client. We are big guys, not in a kindergarten” — Mark commented.

“Yes, we are doing everything to support sales. You rather be more business oriented. I agree with Mark” — added Barbara, the COO. She had an ironic smile on her face.

“This was sarcasm Mark” — Susan, the Head of HR said.

This is the third time the Board is trying to move the strategy ahead. Each meeting looks the same. The team prefers to talk about positive stuff. They know each other well personally. The so-called positive attitude, became a glass ceiling, stopping the team from seeing their true reality. One person in the room gets selected for blame, any time he or she is rising serious issues. This time, it was Patrick’s turn.

“I feel we are making a huge mistake” — Susan said.

She stopped the discussion. The team got confused. The Head of Sales tried to comment. She managed to stop him.

“I want to ask you individually. Do you really believe, that what Patrick is trying to rise is completely absurd? — Susan said.
“What do you mean?” — the PR Director asked.
“I believe that Patrick is rising very important issues, which we should address. For some reason we are ignoring them. I want those, who to some extent, agree with Patrick’s comments, to move and sit close to Patrick.” — Susan said.

The team members were sitting on chairs. No tables in the room. It took some time until the PR Director has moved his place, sitting now closer to Patrick. Susan followed him. Other members got concerned. The PR Director shared his observations. It was quite clear, from what he was saying, that the CFO had risen a very serious concern. He was ignored.

“Is there anybody else in the team who believes these issues are serious?” — Susan asked.

Two other people in the room nodded. The CEO and the Head of Marketing seemed to agree. Suzan asked them to sit closer to Patrick. Each of them shared observations and comments on the issue, the CFO had risen. The discussion continued for more than an hour.

“I want to talk about what has happened here today. Would you agree to spend 30 minutes on this?” — Susan asked the team.

She was aware that the dynamic in the room has shifted. They have never had such a good and honest discussion before. Positive results of her first intervention have created the trust and confidence both in her and other team members, at least some. She has decided to go further, leverage what has happened, and deepen the discussion. Most of the team members nodded. The CEO has confirmed her interest in improving the way they run discussions, as well.

“What do you think has happened here in the room today?” — she asked.

The COO, Barbara shared as the first one. She had a smile on her face sharing her observations. Her speech was long. Some would say — as always. This time everybody listened with attention and respect.

“We are able to discuss honestly very difficult issues for the very first time. We used to smile, joke and argue. I seldom felt listened to. Today it is different” — Barbara said.
“How do you feel about it, Barbara?” — Susan asked.

Barbara did not want to answer this question. Susan has pushed her one more time. Barbara said only — ”OK”. Susan knew she has to respect her answer, not pushing more. She asked the same question to other members of the team.

“I felt irritated each time we had these discussions. Now I feel confident and content. I trust we are going in the right direction with our team. Your questions are really helpful” — Patrick said.
“Thank you Patrick for having the courage of stopping the team and rising issues” — Susan said.

The team members nodded their heads, as a sign of appreciation. The difference in the atmosphere was clear. The team went through quite an interesting discussion. They made important discoveries about their interactions. It turned out that ealier nobody felt comfortable with the dynamic in the Boardroom. All members felt discomfort. Nobody had courage mentioning it. They got used to lack of productivity in the room.

Susan’s empathy for Patrick, and for the team, has helped her find courage to do the right thing. Her intervention’s purpose was to bring back respect to the room. In the second shot, she has decided to work on deepening the level of trust and provoke more honest discussions.

Asking about feelings is necessary to push people out of their comfort zone. Doing it with respect brings more vulnerability and trust to the room.

“In what situations do you feel a need to stop the discussion? Why do you feel so? What will help you find courage to do so?”