A big ugly elephant in your team meeting?  How do we talk about the unspoken?

We coach, develop and work alongside leaders and teams to shift ideas on leadership and provide the skills and tools needed to grow teams.


Author: Phil Hartwick
First Published: 2021

What do we mean by ‘a big ugly elephant in the room?’. We mean those things that teams tend to avoid speaking openly about. You know, things like…

  • the tension or competitiveness that exists between some members

  • the dysfunctional dynamic in team discussions – for example one or two people who dominate the airtime

  • team meetings are not well led and are really inefficient and ineffective

  • the team is trying to prioritise too many things at once and not focusing on what matters most

  • the team isn’t making important decisions

  • the lack of support from other team members to help with heavy workloads

You may be suffering from one or more of these types of things and everyone is avoiding speaking about it.

What can you do?

Here are a couple of things you and the team could try. (You might find some of this easier with an independent facilitator to help the team learn and then experience one or more of these strategies). Then with the facilitator the team can then set up more regular and ongoing practice.

1. Discuss expectations the team has of each other – set aside a special session to have the team describe and talk about the type of team they want to be a part of and what they would ideally like from each other. Together, agree a set of values and behaviours that everyone is committed to living up to.

2. Team Retrospectives – develop a regular team practice where the team spends quality time focusing on what is working well, and what could help make the team better. Team retrospectives are a good place to review how the team is going against the agreed team expectations.

3. Take a helicopter view – get in the habit of saying ‘ Can we take a helicopter view for a minute?’ This encourages the team to call out what is happening at the time.

4. Have a ‘S-O-S-O’ Convo – where there is tension between two team members, we suggest that they are requested by the team to work on their differences outside of the team meeting to resolve the tension. This might require someone to assist and mediate but we encourage team members to try on their own first.

 You can download a booklet of these strategies here.

Share This