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  • Writer's pictureCécile Hemery

How to have impactful conversations with your team members

Updated: Nov 29, 2023


This is an illustration representing a drawn path with the 4 steps of the GROW mode: Goal, Reality, Options and Way Forward

A theme that is sometimes recurring with my clients is the conversations they have with their team members don’t always have value.

Of course, it depends on the team members. For some, value-filled conversations come easily. But for others, it doesn’t. Managers either become the official bureau of unproductive complaints or get a list of project updates whilst, while interesting, isn’t propelling anyone towards a greater purpose. 

Many of my clients, and especially those with the Selfless Carer profile, tend to jump into solution mode and have a tendency to find a solution to the problem the team member might be bringing, rather than help them find it themselves.

“But isn’t my job to solve problems?” some of them say, well, not necessarily. A manager's role is to support their team member and that might involve helping them solve problems. But where is the growth opportunity if all your problems get solved by someone else? Next time the problem happens, what you’ll have learned is to ask for someone else to solve it. And as a manager, that is not how you want your team to think.

Another thing to consider is miscommunication. When I ask some of those clients “What did your team member want?” in that specific conversation, they often don’t know. They are making assumptions about what their team member might want, but they haven’t asked. So there is a possibility that they might be frustrated about solving a problem for a team member who hasn’t asked for it.

The take-away is are you having the same conversation as your team member is having?

An example might be if your team member is complaining about something, that they are just venting. They aren't asking you to do anything. Venting has value. And you know that because you’re venting too from time to time. Now if all conversations are venting, that may be a sign of something else worth exploring.

But how do you set the tone of the conversations right with your team members, in your catch-ups with them?

There is an easy tool that you may already have come across, which is called GROW.

  • Goal

  • Reality

  • Options

  • Way forward

GROW is a way to structure conversations following 4 simple steps.

Let’s go through each one by one.


Goal: What is the conversation about

Having a clear goal helps to give a specific direction to the conversation and to make sure you are both aligned on what is needed. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and ask for clarification to make sure you both have the same understanding. Assumptions might take you in completely different directions. Better to check.

It’s important that the team member picks the goal. It’s their meeting, their chance to speak with you. Your chance to know what’s on their mind.

Some examples of questions might be:

  • What do you want to talk about today?

  • Where would you like to be by the end of our conversation?

  • How would you like to use our time together today?

It might be helpful as well to ask why this is an important topic. It might tell you a lot about where your team member is at.

If your team member doesn’t have a topic, you can encourage them to think about one for future conversations and also ask what would be most valuable for them from these catch-ups with you.

If they go into a list of project updates, you can challenge them if that is the best use of your time together or if there is something specific they want your input on or why it’s important you know the details (they may be looking for recognition). Of course, you want to be informed about what’s going on, but if the conversation could be replaced by a list of bullet points in an email, is that the best use of both your time?


Reality: what does the situation look like today?

So now, you’ve got a topic that you both have the same understanding of.

The next step is to assess what the situation looks like today. Where they’re coming from will inform where they’re going. This is an assessment, an audit, of where they’re at, what they’ve tried, what challenges they have encountered and where they’re blocked or need support on.

Some examples of questions might be:

  • What does the situation looks like today?

  • What have you tried to resolve the situation?

  • What has been getting in the way?

  • Why is the situation today not working?

Here we’re just trying to understand the “today” and approach the topic with a clear head. We’re setting the foundations.


Options: what can you do about it?

Now we’re entering into solution mode.

We know the question, and we know where we’re starting from, the next step is “What are the options available?”. This is a different approach than just asking what they are going to do about it because it gives space for reflection, brainstorming, testing out ideas and discarding them if they don’t fit. They won’t be judged for laying out options that are not the ideal solution. There is no “looking silly” in the thinking-out-loud/brainstorming phase.

It’s also important to let them come up with a list of options. Many managers are tempted at this stage to blurt out what to do. I would advise you to refrain from it. You can offer your input, and different perspectives, ask challenging questions, and brainstorm with them. But this remains a thinking space for them.

Some examples of questions might be:

  • What options do you see to approach the matter?

  • What possible routes do you see to handle this matter?

  • What possible things could you do differently to move things forward?

Play together with the options to assess whether they’re right or not.


Way Forward: What action will you take?

Now that you have identified several possible options, with their pros and cons, ask your team member what they want to do.

Some examples of questions might be:

  • Now that we’ve talked about all these different options, which one do you think fits best in the situation?

  • What actions do you want to take as a result of our discussion to move things forward?

Again, you want them to own their action points, and if they come up with it, rather than you, that is going to be more natural. They have come up with their own strategy and it is their own plan they will be executing on. That is empowering.


SMART Actions: a small first step

Ideally, you want these actions to be SMART (Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-bound). You can support the team member in the conversation in making sure their action points are SMART. If an action point is too big or too vague, it will be harder to implement and it may get lost in the list of things to do. Identify the very first step that needs to be taken.

It may be that they need your support in overcoming some of their blockers, in which case you can offer your help:

  • How can I help?

  • What support, if any, do you need from me?

Create accountability

Now we don’t want that beautiful action plan to get lost in limbo, so accountability matters.

Make note of the action points and follow up with them. You can agree together when it is best to follow up, is it the next catch-up? Or maybe before?

If the same issue resurfaces, it is helpful to have a record of those action points and to see whether or not they acted on them or what got in the way of them having the desired result. It’s useful information!


 

The GROW model is simple, it’s not restrictive on the range of topics that it can be used on. The benefit of having a structure to a conversation is that it helps you to be focused on value, for yourself and the other person, and have somewhere to get back to if the conversation goes on an unproductive tangent. It can help you ahve more impactful conversations. While it may feel weird the first couple of times, with practice, it won't feel like following a structure anymore and will become natural. 

Will you give GROW a try?

If you want some support with having better conversations with your team members, then get in touch!


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