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An agency was encountering some internal communication challenges they felt only an outside firm could address. Some were process issues, some were performance issues, and some were structural issues. They brought us in to focus on the process issues. We performed assessments with focus groups and with one-on-one interviews. Over the course of two days, we met with the entire staff of about 50 people.

On the last day of our interviews, we met with a young woman, Tanya. In advance of meeting her, we learned she was very sharp but a bit reserved. As we talked to her and got her perspective, she began talking about the issues. She narrowed in on the training component. It was ineffective and it was inconsistent. People were not receiving the same training. Some people received formal training while others learned via on-the-job (OTJ) experiences.

As a result, team members pursued what they thought best. Some people took shortcuts getting the job done, which unfortunately left some gaps. Some people followed the recommended processes, which resulted in them taking more time to complete.

As we talked to Tanya, we soon realized she really, really understood what the problem was. She recommended we bring everyone together for the same training session. This would ensure everyone was on the same page, focused on the same goals in mind, and worked with the same processes.

Everything she told us fell within the solution criteria the agency was seeking. It fell within the budget scope. It fell within the planned timetable. And it fell within the resources available. In fact, it wasn’t anything super difficult to achieve. A little surprised the solution was right here, we asked Tanya, “This all makes a lot of sense. Why didn’t you share your ideas before?” She paused for a long moment and said, “I’ll be honest. No one has ever asked me.”

Tanya’s answer taught us a very important lesson. Here we had a person close to the problem, who fully understood the scope of the problem and how it was impacting individual and team performance. Most importantly, she had a solution on the tip of her tongue. The challenge for leaders and teams is to create an environment where everyone is engaged and is willing and able to give their best to help organizations achieve their mission.

If you are a leader….Are you engaging the right people? Do your people feel significant? Valued? Do they believe that their ideas are heard? That their opinions matter? If not you are missing important opportunities. If you want better conversations and better solutions, its important to ask better questions to the right people. The solutions you are seeking are there for you, you just have to ask for them.

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