Fostering Courageous Conversations to Reduce the MooseIn the past two weeks I’ve facilitated a couple of variations of leadership team retreats featuring “moose hunting” exercises. Whether they’re called elephants-in-the-room, 800 pound gorillas, or moose/camel/kangaroo-on-the-table (we’ve used various creatures in different parts of the world), the idea is the same; identify key issues without names attached and figure out how to deal with them.

This exercise follows the process described at “How to Vision Your Ideal Team or Culture“. The goal is to address the biggest barriers to reaching the leadership team’s ideal state. Unless a leadership team is exceptionally open and extraordinary (in the top 10%) already (which means 90% aren’t), most team leaders don’t realize how their authority, style, or the group’s power dynamics stifle conversations about what’s really going on.

One senior VP in a team often challenged (some said bullied) the team to “put on their big boy/girl pants and speak up.” He was a stronger member of the team in a more powerful position. When we used the following process to give everyone an equal and anonymous voice and vote he was very surprised to learn about a few critical barriers that reduced the team’s effectiveness but were never discussed.

This process is designed for a neutral outside facilitator to use. Self-lead variations of steps 1 to 5 include using anonymous tools like Survey Monkey or meeting software connecting phones/tablets/computers to a central presentation point program and displaying results for the group to see in PowerPoint slides.

  1. Each participant writes down up to three “moose” issues the leadership team needs to address if their vision of the ideal future is going to move from dreaming to implementation.
  2. Only the facilitator sees these notes, shuffles them, and reads the notes to a few scribes from the group who summarize (some moose descriptions are quite detailed) and rewrite the issue on Post-It-Notes to protect anonymity/openly airing issues and put the focus on the message not the messenger.
  3. The Post-It-Notes “moose” are clustered/grouped into themes and given titles through whole group discussion. Then each cluster is numbered (can get as high as 12 moose)
  4. Each participant hands in his or her secret ballot vote of the top moose by writing three cluster numbers on a piece of paper only seen by the facilitator.
  5. Three or four moose will inevitably get most of the votes.
  6. Sub-groups are then formed around each issue. Their task is to identify what they feel the core or root issue is, brainstorm possible solutions, and bring back their recommended actions to the larger group.

Time and again we see the power of this process to foster real — and courageous conversations — that surface barriers that need to be addressed.

Go to Moose on the Table for more insights and a quiz designed to help you decide if your team has a few moose lurking in your meeting rooms.