CARGO: A tool to help your team face complex challenges

The complexity of the challenges we face is ever-increasing. We knew this before the scientific disagreements about COVID-19; before the current debate around systemic racism; and before the polarisation surrounding climate change.  These issues are now right in our faces (better put on that mask… or not?), as is their complexity and this will only increase. Never before have we needed to be so adaptable and creative to find responses to what seem like daily upheavals. People will be looking to leaders for the answers and to right the ship as it hits storm after storm, asking, “How will we meet these challenges?”

Here are just a few of the key challenges I have heard in the last week:

  • What is the next step for my business?
  • What does our office look like in one month, or even one year?
  • What does equality and inclusion look like at work? And on our streets?
  • How does a sustainable business function? What should be our focus?
  • What is the best thing to do for my kids? Should I even have kids???

Of course, none of these questions have a discreet or completely knowable answer. The situation is too complex, too fast moving with too many variables to have visibility of all the options. Yet we make choices every day in order to navigate our way toward these desired future states. So how do leaders hold their role, and their responsibility, as the world shifts beneath their feet and new waves breach the horizon looking at washing away so many things that we hold to be true?

Based on my experience working with teams and leaders through some tough challenges, including financial mismanagement, transforming new sales and product processes, through to improving diversity and inclusion within organisations, I see a bigger role for the leader as facilitator in the coming years.

What does that mean?

It means knowing that you have a team and many other resources at your disposal – and you have to work with them in order to find the best way forward. You might not get what you expected, but you will get better answers and better buy-in by following some simple steps to help get yourself and your team performing at their best.

Using my experience, as well as my research into group dynamics, I have distilled 5 simple steps that any group of people can use – on-line or in-person – in order to get the best from their teams or project groups.

That is, make sure you’ve got your CARGO:

  1. Connect
  2. Align
  3. Review
  4. Generate
  5. Output

1. Connectmichelangelo-71282_1280

First, engage your crew. We’re distant, but also closer. Thanks (?) to COVID 19 – we are all further away physically than we are used to. At the same time, thanks to technology, some of us are closer to people than we have ever been. We are united by the “storm”, but we all have our unique experiences of it. The need to connect has been tested and thankfully found.

While not all communications have the same impact that in-person interactions do, many of us have been astounded by the connection that has been created online – provided the internet connection holds! With that connection, we create the sense of acknowledgement and the beginning of trust. From that trust, we can have open and inclusive conversations. Without connection, there is often very little moving forward. This makes connecting everyone on your team/call/project the number one priority and action. Without it, everything else falters.

A couple of tips for connecting:

1)    Make the initial connection NOT connected to the task at hand. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, people are more likely to contribute if they are seen as more than their role. There are plenty of great ways to do this online – a colleague of mine has even created a “random icebreaker generator” which will get you started.

2)    Get everyone contributing early. The quicker people speak up in a group, the more likely they are to speak again. Get people calling on each other, not just having the leader suggesting who should go next.

Top tip – you probably need to spend at least 10% of your meeting time at this stage in order to build the connection.

2. Align

Second, make sure you are heading in the same direction. Once everyone has checked-in and established a group connection, you need to create focus. At this point the convener of the meeting needs to establish the purpose of the meeting and ensure everyone is on-board with it. This does not mean that the outcome has been decided, but that the challenge has been clarified and there is some consensus on how the meeting will be used to work on that challenge. It can be useful for the leader to decide this ahead of time. However, you can also negotiate this with the group in the moment, potentially creating even more engagement and camaraderie. It’s probably best to have a plan ahead of time, but check in with the group in case they have found out something new – such is the nature of the world these days.

Top tip – this is probably the shortest section of the meeting and, given the choice, give more time to the Connect and Review stage.

3. Review

We are all in different places, not just physically, but mentally, each having our own view and perspective. These differences have come into sharp contrast as we now see into people’s homes, gardens and personal lives – or not. It is obvious that we can no longer make assumptions that we are all “on the same page.” While this has always been the case, sharing an office and workspace provided us with the illusion of homogeneity that probably never existed in the first place. Thankfully, we now have to make a concerted effort to recognise such differences and build alignment based on what the group brings, and not assume full understanding. (Nothing is more annoying than people making incorrect assumptions about you, your ideas and where you are coming from.) So, before you get into solutions, it is important to ensure everyone has a grasp of what they are dealing with:

  • What are the facts?
  • What has been tried already?
  • What don’t they know?

Without conducting this review, not only might you be shooting off in the wrong direction, you also miss out on getting people engaged.

Apps that can help build alignment and review include:

Top tip – regardless of what tool you use, make sure that your group of people know where they are coming from and where they are going.

4. Generate

Now the fun can begin. Once your group has reviewed what they know and, more flash-113310_1280importantly, confirmed some of what they don’t know, the creative energy of the group can take shape AND focus. This step grounds the “wild ideas” phase in a direction and helps create a container for the group.

The simplest way to do this is to get people to brainstorm in “chat” (that way everyone gets heard, not just the loudest). Or, if you have a break-out function like Zoom’s, put people in pairs or small groups where they can explore. Be cautious not to get into the evaluating stage too early as this uses a different part of the brain and can reduce diverse inputs from the group. Finally, upon hearing different ideas, it is worthwhile hearing more about “why” they propose things, before declaring them a “good/bad” idea.

There are also many on-line tools that have been created for this purpose including: Miro, Mural and MS teams – although this can be difficult for collaboration if any users are outside your organisation.

Top tip – make sure the leader doesn’t contribute first as this will lead the group strongly in their direction.

5. Outputs

No meeting is rewarding without clear actions and outputs. Making sure these are clearly stated, beyond “having another meeting,” gives momentum and builds energy. If there is to be another meeting, what are the things that have to be found out, answered, investigated or done beforehand? These would be the outputs. If these outputs can be shared amongst the group the better. Without clear outputs, meetings will lose steam and teams will revert back to their individual preferences and collaboration will diminish. And these days, it is collaboration that is essential to meet the complex challenges of the future.

Top tip – have these shared explicitly in chat or other from by the people who are going to commit to the action.

Call to action

Now that you understand the five CARGO steps for maximising on-line and in-person meetings, you can begin using your role as a facilitator to make sure you get the best outcomes. What this means for you as a facilitator is that you need to do some planning. (I know, I know, not everyone’s cup of tea.) Given how many of us are now in front of a computer for meetings, we don’t want to waste any more time than we need to.

So if you want to engage your teams and get the most of your meetings, online or in-person, make sure you use CARGO – and do a bit more planning than you are used to – possibly spend up to twice as much time planning the meeting as running it, at first anyway. This will get quicker and know that the engagement of your teams will mean it is time well spent. As you become more familiar with your role of leader as facilitator, this will begin to come naturally and you will find you have more time, as your team generates better ways forward.

As a final call to action, remember, it can be fun trying different ways to implement these five stages, some you may even be able to do BEFORE the meeting, like run a poll on what people are struggling with – (see the free tools mentioned above).

If you found any of this useful, please forward this article to anyone you know who wants run better meetings.

Enjoy! and leave your thoughts in the comments below.