A frequent challenge of entrepreneurial leaders is earning buy-in and a sense of ownership toward business outcomes. As a leader, you may believe that you must set strategy or make decisions alone, thus left to convince others of your viewpoints.
This tends to occur especially with team leaders and founders who are high achievers. It’s your ability to execute and make decisions quickly that’s created traction in the business. However, relying on this same paradigm stalls future growth. Being the “go-to” person for all decisions not only results in upward pressure in the organization, but also means you miss out on the ideas of your team, who may have a perspective that could result in a better outcome. As Schlesinger shared
“Getting to the ‘right answer’ without anybody who is supporting it or having to execute it is just a recipe for failure.”
What if you could act as both leader and facilitator to work with your team and collectively make decisions? The Conscious Conversation Framework increases collaboration and ownership among your team, and inherently leads to greater buy-in.
The Pressures Leaders Face
When we get our teams actively involved in strategic goal setting it creates buy-in because now they're active participants. At the same time they’re learning from you about what’s important and what isn’t.
As team leader you can play two different roles in these conversations.
Expert - You have your lived experience that allows you to understand key aspects of the business such as the product, customer, growth strategy, and long-term vision. You have an informed opinion on the direction to take the business and the team.
Facilitator - You’re guiding a specific group of people toward making a decision or creating an action plan. You’re helping to diversify the perspectives and to build safety to allow the best ideas to come into the business.
Most founders or managers only sit in the seat of expert. They make decisions and then wonder why it’s a struggle to get buy-in from the team. The Conscious Conversation framework invites you to create a balance between these two roles and teaches you how to be a facilitator in order to instill more buy-in, a greater sense of ownership and generally more excitement to achieve the goals of the team.
Conscious Conversation Framework
1. Set Expectations in Advance
People need to be warmed up to the idea that you're asking for their viewpoint. Prepare your team by sending them a message that outlines the outcome you’ll be trying to achieve in an upcoming meeting, why this outcome is important, and how you’ll know when you’ve reached it. If, for example, your meeting will be about quarterly goals, have them answer a few questions in advance. For instance:
Why is it important for our team to align on goals?
Why is it important for the team to contribute to the conversation?
What do you think are the most important priorities we should focus on as a team this quarter?
What opportunities are you seeing that we could pursue that we aren’t pursuing?
What are we working on that we should stop working on?
What are we hearing from our customers right now?
What are we hearing from our employees right now?
2. Set Intentions and Outcomes
Start the meeting by providing an intention. It’s your job as the team leader to help focus the conversation on the outcome you want to achieve in the meeting. You can do this by asking everyone in the room:
“What should our goal for today be?”
“What agenda items should we be discussing?”
“What should we NOT focus on today?”
From everyone's input you can create clear outcomes for the meeting so it’s apparent exactly what you will be achieving by the end of the meeting. Some sample outcomes could be:
Drafting a proposed set of goals.
Deciding on the goals.
Choosing Plan A over Plan B.
Making a difficult decision.
Gathering ideas or feedback.
3. Decide How To Decide
It isn’t enough to identify what the outcome needs to be, you also need to know how you’ll decide (i.e. here’s how you’ll know a decision has been made).
An excellent model for making decisions is the Vroom-Yetton Decision Model
. Below are some common decision-making modalities often used on teams.
Autocratic: “I alone decide.”
Consultative: “I gather input, then I decide.”
Consensus: “Everyone must agree unanimously.”
Delegative: “Someone else decides.”
Democratic: “Majority rules.”
Stochastic: “Flip a coin.”
Avoidant: “Let’s postpone or not decide.”
As the leader, you can choose which way the team will decide or you can decide as a group, even if not everyone shares the same opinion on the decided outcome.
Most new leaders and founders will choose a consultative approach, where they gather everyone's input, and then they, themselves, make the final decision.
This one step is a big key into managing conflict in the meeting because, no matter what happens after this, everyone already agreed to the rules in advance.
4. Awareness: Thoughts, Feelings, Data
This step is about you revealing any of the thoughts or feelings you may have about the topic in order to anticipate any areas of tension. This is when you review any information prepared in advance of the meeting, like data about the decision you’re going to make.
If you want to have a powerful conversation with your team it pays off to be honest about what you’re thinking and feeling. You can share, “I’m glad we’re setting goals. This is great!”, or “I’m going into this process and I don’t know what will come out of it. That makes me nervous.”
Leading with vulnerability will give your team permission to feel comfortable sharing their authentic thoughts and feelings about this conversation. But you as the team leader must go first in order to cultivate an environment of psychological safety
When we are able to share our authentic thoughts or feelings about a conversation, we can make better decisions because we’re fully honest about the full spectrum of information to make the decision. The thoughts that everyone has about the decision tends to be the very data that you lack, which is how this framework helps.
5. Alignment: Individual Perspectives, Group Discussion, Commit to Draft, Decide
From the seat of the facilitator, you’re asking everyone on the team to share their opinions. Give team members a few minutes to individually have the floor and present their ideas for the top-most important goals to be worked on during the quarter. This gives people the ability to represent their viewpoint and collectively understand everyone’s perspective, allowing for greater decision-making ability.
If there’s a large number of people on the team, it’s recommended to limit the amount of time each person can share. Once everyone has shared, you can point out patterns and themes—areas of agreement AND disagreement. Get a concept in mind of the decision being made and write it down tactically.
6. Action: Commit to Action Items, Collect Feedback
At the end of this meeting it’s essential to identify how to put the decision into action. This is a pivotal point in the conversation because it will be tempting to not implement what was discussed. Be sure to set an intention for what the next action is to guarantee follow through.
Some example action plans include:
In order to continue providing a container of safety, it’s vital to step out of the decision itself to understand how you did as a team in your ability to make a decision. Which is why collecting feedback from the group is extremely important. Ask your team questions like,
7. Share Gratitude
The last piece is to conclude the meeting in a positive light—regardless of what was achieved. You’ve asked your team members to actively participate in this conversation. They took time out of their day to do this. Minimize the things that may not have gone so well by pointing out the progress the team has made together.
You can do this by asking,
Instead of leading with hyper-productivity, you’re leading with peace and gratitude.
A new paradigm for leading your team
The Conscious Conversation Framework invites you into a new paradigm of leadership. One where you as the leader suspend the idea that you don’t need to know all the answers, and that solutions can be created through “us” as a team. It’s recognizing that you could figure it out on your own, but that you want the team to figure it out collectively.
Rather than placing a bet on you as the leader on knowing the right answer, you de-risk the decision when you bring everyone in together to make an informed decision. The next generation of leaders are those who are curious, empathetic, attuned to their teams, and care about their development. Will you step into your vulnerability as a leader? Will you answer the call to inspire and lead your team?
In Leading At Scale, Chase Damiano teaches you how to trust your team, delegate more, and manage to results—so you focus less on operations and more on growth.