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Category Archives: Teams

How to get more “hands up” in team meetings

You know the scenario … Someone (possibly the boss) asks “Who wants to take the lead on this?” and then … Crashing Silence! A wall of blank faces or to avoid eye contact people suddenly develop an intense fascination with their fingernails or an urge to rummage through documents OR ….

… The silence keeps up long enough for the boss to say “OK I’ll do it” and then the window of opportunity for development and shared responsibility is missed OR ….

… The usual person puts their hand up. This person is probably already overstretched but they volunteer through habit or an over-developed sense of responsibility. Over time they can become resentful about how much work they have. Meanwhile others become resentful that they didn’t get the opportunity (even if they were asked). There could be many underlying reasons for the above scenario. But let’s focus on the impact on the whole team when people are reluctant to step up and take responsibility for something.

When working on team development projects with clients I often use the KGI (Klein Group Instrument for Effective Leadership and Participation in Teams). The KGI explores people’s patterns of group behaviour along four critical dimensions – Leadership, Negotiation Orientation, Task Focus and Interpersonal Focus. There are 9 sub-scales within the 4 main scales. Exploring the dynamic interplay between these sub-scales is a valuable way to help teams understand what is hindering them and what they need to do to improve performance and relationships.

Initiative – The Leadership scale has 3 sub-scales: Assertiveness, Group Facilitation and Initiative. Initiative, in the context of the KGI is one’s ability to be the prime mover and spokesperson for the group. To take on a leadership role an individual must be willing to be in the spotlight. The trouble is most people don’t like the glare or the heat that is generated by the light. Putting your hand up means you are accountable and it also means you can be criticised, so it takes energy, commitment and fortitude. It can be scary stuff for some people.

What happens when no-one new steps up to the plate? What is the impact on the group and what happens if this is allowed to become a culture within an organisation? I tell you what happens … not very much. Work output becomes stagnant, innovation is stymied and those who do put their hands up inevitably get burnt out. And the sad thing is development opportunities are missed and people don’t reach their potential. Eventually a climate of apathy prevails. Not a healthy environment to work in.

It comes as no surprise that the Initiative sub-scale of the KGI is, for most people their lowest score. Here is a snapshot of page 12 of the KGI report: the same person 6 months apart. Let’s call her Cathy. She was a middle level manager in an organisation where I was running a Leadership Development Program. The red columns are Leadership. Initiative is the red column third from the left in the more detailed graphs. What’s interesting is the basic shape of Cathy’s graph didn’t change in the 6 months. Initiative is still her lowest but she has significantly increased on every element across the scale. (Sometimes with development and coaching the whole shape of the graph can change – but that’s another story to tell in another blog). Cathy was committed to develop herself as a leader and she was determined to emerge from the program having demonstrated stronger leadership – particularly lifting her Initiative and overcoming her reluctance to step up in public situations. She knew her problems in this area were getting in the way of her leadership. At first she really struggled to even talk in front of the group or put up her hand for “in the spotlight” situations. Through coaching, training, being open to feedback and development and sheer courage Cathy emerged as a star on the program and has continued to thrive. Senior management was very impressed and so were her team members and the rest of her colleagues on the leadership program. She is yet another KGI success story. 

Why are people reluctant to put their hand up and take the initiative? Dr Robert Klein, the developer of the KGI attributes this to two key factors: fear and lethargy. In a conversation Dr Klein told me…”It could be fear. Many people believe there will be bad consequences if they step up and take initiative within the group. One junior executive told me “If I put myself out on a limb by taking initiative, and the limb breaks, I don’t see anyone there to pick me up off the ground. Initiative is risky, and for many, too risky. Sometimes people had negative experiences taking initiative in the past, and those times haunt them in the present, holding them back. For others, they focus on the things that can go wrong: they won’t respond to everyone’s issues and concerns properly, causing resentments; everyone will be staring at them, looking for leadership, creating a harsh, withering glare. By focusing on the downside, they become inhibited and decide that it is better not to step up”.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

Or it could be lethargy that prevents them from taking initiative. Many people have simply become accustomed to “letting someone else do it.” Because of this attitude, they tend to sit back in a small group, content to simply follow along. Their own leadership muscle has atrophied. They often don’t recognise leadership opportunities, or feel confident about their ability to take them on, having become acclimated to a passive role that has deskilled them as leaders. The antidote to fear and lethargy is courage.”

In Cathy’s case fear and lack of confidence were getting in the way of reaching her potential as a leader. When I see people stepping up as a result of putting their KGI Individual and Group Development Plans into action I also see a huge difference in the dynamics of the team. It is a positive shift – a release of energy. More people are taking on new things, more gets done – but more importantly people are more engaged and work is more rewarding. This can only happen if the existing leaders and “high initiatives” make way and create space for new people to demonstrate initiative. People need to be encouraged and supported as they take on new responsibilities. They need to be nurtured and coached as they learn even if they initially make mistakes.

Next time someone asks “who will take the lead on this” and a spark of interest lights up within you – then go on! Put your hand up.

What’s your experience with a reluctance for someone to put their hand up and show initiative? How has it impacted you or your team? All comments and questions welcome.

Email me: or call +61 (0) 410510720) to discuss how Illuma Consulting can help you turn your teams around with the Klein Group Instrument for Effective Leadership and Participation in Teams. We have a range of Team Development and Coaching offers using the KGI – including our Team Tune Up. Coaching can be conducted virtually – we can come to you on-line. You can also download a KGI Brochure from our website

Dr Klein’s new book on the KGI will be published shortly. Rob and I have been friends and colleagues for a number of years and I brought him to Australia all the way from Massachusetts to launch Illuma Consulting in early 2009. We’re having another one of our regular catch up talks about life and the KGI tomorrow. That prompted me revisit this earlier blog and post it here again. (This article has originally appeared as a Ignite blog in 2011).

Keep the Canaries Alive and Singing in Meetings

Organisations can invest tremendous amounts of money, energy and time trying to build cohesiveness in teams, leadership groups and decision / planning meetings. But when it comes to teams and groups, I don’t necessarily equate cohesive with effective. When sticking together means not challenging each other’s thinking cohesiveness is dysfunctional.

Many years ago I was on a committee that made a decision to do something I strongly disagreed with. It involved an “internal loan” using money that had come from donations. I was new to the committee and recall with shame that I didn’t speak up to express my concerns about the ethics of the decision. Instead I allowed a powerful, charismatic individual to push through his proposal.

Why didn’t I speak up? Many reasons but perhaps the strongest was reputational pressure (discussed below). The committee took a round the table straw vote – the proposer spoke first then asked his mate sitting next to him to speak. What happened was the cascade effect. I was one of the last to speak and by then everyone else had indicated agreement, so I went along with everyone else! Afterwards I learned that others shared my view but also felt uncomfortable in challenging what appeared to be a group agreement. I think many of us have experienced something similar. Since then I have fallen prey to the same trap over and over. Why? Perhaps the meetings were structured in ways that dissenting or warning voices were actively discouraged.

When a group meets to make decisions a high degree of consensus is important for the group to be aligned behind the decisions and committed to their implementation. But not before exploring options and unearthing the implications and risks behind those choices. As a facilitator I work to strengthen the group’s capacity to challenge each other’s thinking and surface underlying conflict and differences.

Who has experienced the situation in this cartoon?

You may often hear facilitators say “the wisdom is in the room” but that is not necessarily the case as this article on Making Dumb Groups Smarter suggests. Quoting from Sunstein and Hastie’s article there are two main errors in groups:

“informational signals” (some group members receive incorrect signals from other members) and “reputational pressures” (people silence themselves or change their views to avoid serious penalties). These two factors lead to four separate but interrelated problems: (1) Groups don’t merely fail to correct their members’ errors; they amplify them. (2) They fall victim to cascade effects, following the statements and actions of those who went first. (3) They become polarized, taking even more extreme positions than originally. (4) They focus on “what everybody knows,” ignoring critical information that only one or two members have.

Consensus Decision Options

The following is a guest post by Sheryl Smail of Pivotal – the facilitators


What is considered group consensus depends on many variables including the culture and
community, the nature of the task or decision, and the commitment required from
participants to implement any decision outcomes.

In addition, the effectiveness of different consensus building methodologies will be affected
by variables such as the time available, the size of the group, and the literacy and other skill
levels of participants.

What is consensus?

Consensus generates a decision about which everyone says, ‘I can live with it’.
Ingrid Bens

It means arriving at a decision each member of the group can accept and support.
Fred Niziol & Kathy Free

Consensus is the process – a participatory process by which a group thinks and feels
together, enroute to their decision.
Sam Kaner

It is important to note that consensus is not unanimity – although some groups may require
unanimity for consensus as part of their culture.

Pros and Cons of Consensus Decision Making

Encourages commitment
Fosters creativity
Takes time
Quality decisions require good
information and skill levels
Risk of watered down solution

When is Consensus Decision Making Most Valuable?

  • When stakeholder commitment to the decision is important e.g. to implement
  • When there is a high level of conflict or wide variety of perspectives among stakeholders
    regarding preferred solutions
  • When no single stakeholder has the authority to make the decision

Tools that Assist in Achieving Consensus

Sometimes consensus is readily achieved and obvious. For example:

  • Clarify key issues and interests
  • Brainstorm options
  • Analyse and develop potential ways forward
  • Totally mutually acceptable option emerges

However, even in these instances it assists transparency of decision-making
if it is agreed in advance what consensus means for a particular group.

The method below is recommended as a formalised consensus process for you to consider.

This consensus process (adapted from a 5 finger process and using gradients of
agreement cards) is used to reach agreement without jeopardising the quality of a
solution that has strong, but not unanimous, support.

  • When the ideal is consensus but a decision needs to made within a timeframe
  • When it is important that decision quality is not watered down

How it works:

Participants are polled on the proposal, by each participant holding up the card that indicates
their level of support for the proposal.

Strongly agree


Can see pluses & minuses, but willing to go along with the group


Strongly disagree & can’t support

Consensus Building Process:

  1. If everyone shows ‘Strongly Agree’, ‘Agree’, or ‘Can see pluses & minuses’, but willing to
    go along with the group’ then consensus has been reached and we can move ahead.
  2. If there are any ‘Disagree’ or ‘Strongly disagree & can’t support’, those people are given
    an opportunity to explain to the rest of the group why they gave the rating and make
    recommendations to change the proposal in order to make it acceptable to them. The
    originator of the proposal has the option to make the change or leave the proposal as it is
    and explains the decision to the group.
  3. The polling is done again. (Note: If the proposal was changed you start again at Step 1)
    Otherwise, if everyone shows a ‘Strongly agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Can see pluses &
    minuses, but willing to go along with the group’, or ‘Disagree’, the decision is made, and
    we move ahead.
  4. If there are any ‘Strongly disagree & can’t support’, those people are given the chance to
    indicate why and make recommendations as per 2 above. Once more the originator of the
    proposal has the option to retain or change.
  5. In the final review majority rules.

Key Benefits:

This type of consensus decision-making:

  • Encourages groups to listen carefully when there is disagreement and encourages listening
    twice if necessary
  • Doesn’t allow a solution to be watered down because a few disagree
  • Although there may be one or two who don’t like the final decision, this type of consensus
    ensures that everyone is heard and heard well.


  • Ingrid Bens Facilitating With Ease 2nd Edition San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005
  • Fred Niziol & Kathy Free The IAF Handbook; Chapter 19 The Team Start Up; Jossey-Bass, 2005
  • Sam Kaner et al, Facilitator’s Gide To Participatory Decision-Making 2nd Edition San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007
  • Michael Wilkinson The Secrets of Facilitation San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004
  • Sam Kaner et al, Facilitator’s Gide To Participatory Decision-Making 2nd Edition San Francisco: Jossey

Is the sporting image a winner for your team?

This Easter weekend marks the beginning of the AFL football season. I thought I’d mark the occasion by kicking into the wind and challenging some of the conventional beliefs about team building at work.

intersecting-common-groundSports metaphors are often used in team building activities. I believe these are not always helpful when applied to teams at work. Sports teams are focused on winning, so there is a lot of aggressive energy and the goal is to beat the other team. In contrast, organisations are made up of interdependent work groups and supporting the image of the sporting team with its win/lose model can take attention away from the shared purpose of the organisation and the need to cooperate with other teams/divisions. A win/lose paradigm may reduce team members’ readiness to cooperate through difficult patches.

I once worked with an organisation that had an extraordinarily competitive culture. Sales teams focused on beating other teams to win an annual award. Sadly this was at the expense of retaining customers. In valuing the annual award, the company was reinforcing the very silo-ism I had been brought in to address. A company restructure highlighted these problems when individuals previously competing against each other in different sales teams, needed to work together. A phyrric victory for members of the award-winning team as they lacked the much needed collegial relationships that would stand them in good stead when dispersed to new teams. There can be a difference between achieving and winning. In this project I worked to help teams focus on achieving both organisational and team goals and develop interdependence within and between teams.

Some characteristics I observe in effective work teams:

  • a shared understanding of overall purpose and focus on achieving tasks
  • relationships are healthy enough to withstand challenge and disagreement
  • a reciprocal sense of accountability
  • individuals speak up, demonstrate initiative and take on additional responsibilities when needed
  • communication is respectful and team members are comfortable to share both thoughts and feelings
  • the leader isn’t the only person who can take a leadership role
  • a willingness to negotiate ways through the task and relationships problems that inevitably arise when people are working together
  • a collaborative approach to working with other stakeholders

Just as I’m reluctant to use sports metaphors for team development, I’m also reluctant to use the term “team-building” due to its unfortunate association with off-site recreational approaches. There’s lots of “ra-ra” and fun and games and even a temporary “esprit de corps”. But the feel-good factor quickly fades and too often nothing really changes when faced with the realities back at work. The rules and tasks of engagement at work are different and how people interact during a physical game may not transfer to how they work together in the office to deliver to a deadline on a project.

My approach is to focus on the actual work of the team: what they are there for and paid to achieve; their workplace goals and targets. The day-to-day interactions around small tasks: who does what, how, when, with whom and why, can create so many of the problems we identify within teams.

A crucial step is for the group is to understand how they are currently functioning. Working at both an individual and group level we identify existing strengths; uncover hindrances to performance then develop action steps to improve individual and collective performance.

I usually use profiling instruments as a means of opening up dialogue around current and future performance. My preference is for the KGI or Facet5. Both instruments are evidence based with strong validity and reliability. The KGI is specifically designed for team development (and leadership within teams). It includes a scale for negotiation orientation that relates to my comments above on cooperation and the risks of a win/lose mentality in teams. Facet5 has a range of applications.

But instruments in themselves are not enough. People need to be better skilled in communicating with each other and holding each other accountable. The aim is to develop the above characteristics of effective work teams by learning and modeling them in workshops and individual coaching sessions. Discussions may hone in on avoidance, defensiveness and /or insensitivity. It can be challenging, but the rewards are great. Work is more productive and collegial relationships are more enriching. There is a sense of shared achievement: for individuals, the team and the whole organisation. That’s win/win.

Contact me to find out more about Illuma’s different Team Tune-Up packages to help get your teams working well so that they deliver on their task and relate better in the process.

How to Get More Movement into Your Force Field Analysis

Participants on Illuma’s Foundations of Facilitation training workshop working up their dynamic version of a Force Field Analysis is a practise session (2014)

Participants on Illuma’s Foundations of Facilitation training workshop working up their dynamic version of a Force Field Analysis is a practise session (2014)

You’ve probably experienced a Force Field Analysis activity in a meeting. Someone draws a line down the whiteboard or flipchart and scribes as the group thinks through the issue. People sit and call out ideas while the scribe frantically tries to capture everything. After a little while the whiteboard looks like a dog’s breakfast – there’s no room for any more information, there are lines all over the place and people can’t make sense of it. As the diagram becomes messier participants start to disengage and before long even the scribe loses the plot … I’m actually describing an earlier version of myself here :-/

Force field analysis is a key process tool for many disciplines including project management, organisational development and change consulting. For years I struggled with a way to facilitate a group through the process so that it was engaging and people could visualise and understand the changing dynamic as we worked through the framework.

This is the model I hand out or show on a slide as a means of explanation.

This is the model I hand out or show on a slide as a means of explanation.

Over the years I’ve developed my own way of working with this essential tool for change. Often I start with a physical demonstration of how a Force Field Analysis is essentially about movement. Group members become the driving and restraining forces trying to budge the person representing the current state. This can be a bit of fun before we get down to the real work. Firstly we define the present /status quo (represented by the centre line), then define the desired state or success – what we want in the future. The next step is to identify restraining forces and driving forces and sometimes I include a ranking activity. Then we develop actions to remove or reduce the restraining forces, increase the driving forces or convert a restrainer into a driver (thus getting maximum acceleration for minimum effort).

But it was still me doing the scribing – and I found it difficult to maintain an overall sense when working up close and personal with the whiteboard or flipchart. As the facilitator I needed to be able to maintain the bigger picture.

When training facilitators I always include a Force Field Analysis as a process for a practise session. And when training facilitators I always have one or two sticky walls ready for a range of activities.
One day I started to use a sticky wall that allowed the group members themselves to create, move, rank, delete etc. They became much more engaged, the Force Field Analysis process became much more dynamic and I could stand back and better facilitate the process rather than being locked into scribe role.

Group members’ work during strategy development event I facilitated January 2015 (part way through the process)

Group members’ work during strategy development event I facilitated January 2015 (part way through the process)

I started to notice how much more creative and engaged people were. One day in one of my facilitator workshops a participant decided to make different sized arrows to represent different “strengths” of a force. The colour of the paper took on a new meaning. Scheduled action plan started to be built on an adjacent sticky wall. The act of removing a restraining force (aka written on A5 paper) was not just visual but physical and in some way this was more symbolic and satisfying.

So why not try getting a bit more real action next time you facilitate a group using Force Field Analysis. Contact us for more information about Illuma Consulting’s Foundations of Facilitation Training Workshops. Click here for flyer and dates of next programs.

Foundations of Facilitation

  • Canberra 11 & 12 May 2015
  • Melbourne 19 & 20 October 2015

Note: Kurt Lewin developed the principle of Force Field Analysis in the early half of the 20th Century. There’s a wealth of information on the net including scholarly articles on Lewin’s work and a myriad of images for different ways people use the model.

When the wisdom isn’t in the room

in favourOrganisations can invest tremendous amounts of money, energy and time trying to build “cohesive” teams. Team development is one of our core offerings at Illuma. But when it comes to teams at Illuma we don’t necessarily equate cohesive with effective. When sticking together means not challenging each other’s thinking cohesiveness is dysfunctional. We look to strengthen the team’s capacity to challenge each other’s thinking and surface underlying conflict and differences.

A couple of weeks ago when running facilitation training Rhonda mentioned that one of the key roles for a facilitator is to “protect” the outliers and work with processes that encourage diversity of thinking.

Who has experienced what is shown in this cartoon?

You may often hear facilitators say “the wisdom is in the room” but that is not necessarily the case as this article suggests* I’d like to think that a good facilitator works to mitigate the amplifying errors effect mentioned in the article.

Professional facilitators have a range of processes to encourage diverse thinking and challenging of perspectives. A facilitator should be working to develop group relationships that can withstand conflict and robust dialogue and should help the group hold the discomfort of ambiguity rather than leap to solutions.

The article resonates with me as a facilitator and I’m sure I’ve fallen prey to just about all the traps in the many years I have facilitated meetings.

Your comments are welcome – the link to the article is also on our Facebook Page where you can leave a comment or a question. You may need to scroll down to 10 February 2015. And of course you need to “like” the page to leave a comment … a not so subtle way to drive you to Illuma’s Social Media  

* Illuma subscribes to Harvard Business Review. You may or may not be able to access this article. But well worth the $8.95 investment to purchase the article.

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