After years of supporting teams to improve their working relationships and boost commercial success, I’ve found that the golden rule is to collectively establish expectations upfront; and stick to them throughout the programme. Sounds obvious but it’s not at all easy to get everyone on the same page if you haven’t had an upfront “contracting” conversation. I now use the following principles to guide the contracting phase of the relationship - the time when roles are defined and approaches agreed.
Co-create your agreement
Contracting is best when it’s a collaborative process, with both the external facilitator and the leader agreeing how they will work together to achieve the required results. Without the support of the internal leader, the team don’t buy into the changes or the process. Rather than being a legally binding document, the “contract” you create together should be a dialogue in which you and the leader share your expectations. If you find it is not meeting the right needs it can be reworked and re-contracted at any point.
Identify the ideal outcome
One of the most useful questions to ask upfront is “what does success look like?” Without clearly understanding this from the team leader’s perspective, and getting the views of the team itself, you can’t support them in creating the results they want and need in their business. And if their idea of success doesn’t seem achievable, together reevaluate what and who could be involved to make it happen.
Remember, team leaders have feelings too
It can be hard for a leader to have someone external turn the mirror on them and point out areas they are struggling with or could address differently. I always check upfront to what extent I have permission to challenge and how I can best support the leader so I can make sure my involvement isn’t too much, or too fast, or too soon. Asking “What would you not want to have to face?” or “What could go wrong here?” are bold but vital questions for discovering any important boundaries when working together. If addressed in the contracting stage, they’ll be a lot easier to handle in the event of any potential clashes.
Present a united front to the team
There’s nothing more confusing for a team than an external consultant coming in and acting as the leader, while the real leader is taking a backseat. When I am working within an organisation or team, I always request the leader kicks off the sessions, shares the ideal outcomes and introduces me so they know that we are aligned and supportive of each other. This sets the expectation around ownership and accountability and that this is going to be a collaboration rather than a “fix it” situation, with everyone having their place and their say. I also remind myself, (as if addressing the leader), ‘I facilitate, you lead’. This helps me keep my rightful place.
This should be an equal exchange
In any element of life, when we find an arrangement is out of balance, with one party giving more than the other, the results will never be as powerful as a situation where everyone feels valued, with an equal balance of exchange. This is true of working with a team as an external provider. By agreeing the project scope, guidelines and costings together, you establish a good exchange, where neither party feels they are over-giving.
I know these steps sound simple but in the heat of the moment it is easy to leap into the action phase and miss them out. By being disciplined with yourself about sticking to them, you will reach an agreement that supports everyone involved and keeps you aligned and committed to success.