Make sure everyone has a Post-it
What if team members do not have a Best Hope?
May 8, 2023
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash
Introduced by Jenny Clarke
The value of the platform
Enikö Tegyi has long experience working with teams. In this article, she shares her know-how, answering that often asked question, “What if some people don’t seem to join in?” Here she gives us a lovely example of how to fully engage and involve everyone in a meeting or project, eliciting Best Hopes to give the work a firm platform. The case that Enikö shares perfectly illustrates the value of taking time before what practitioners may see as “the work” really starts. Indeed, this time is an important part of the work itself. Her (very SF) premise is that every voice counts; therefore, we must hear it. Using Post-it Notes to gather “best hopes” is a great idea. It allows everyone to have a say, even those who hesitate to speak in group situations. When the Post-its are displayed, everyone can quickly see what others think. However, in this case, not everyone added to the Post-it display. We learn here how Enikö’s gentle persistence, drawing on the self-organising ability of the other team members, saved the day.
Explaining ‘Best Hope’
Let me start with a short explanation of the term ‘Best Hope’. When working with your team in a meeting, it is helpful to understand what each team member wants to get out of the meeting. This enables you to create a shared starting point (in SF terms, ‘a platform’) that everyone understands and helps the individuals and the team focus.
In Solution Focus terms, many practitioners use the term ‘Best Hope’ to have people describe what they want, e.g. “What is your best hope for this meeting?” Many SF practitioners will also ask, “And what benefit would this best hope bring at work?” so that it moves naturally into the workplace. Working with ‘Best Hopes’ at the beginning of a meeting is a powerful way to create a constructive and positive mindset.
Preparing for a conference in Hungary with a colleague, we were gathering our own most important factors to focus on when coaching a team: factors that contribute to the universal language (language in this context meaning a system of useful interactions) of a “healthy team micro-climate” - a wonderful term borrowed from John Brooker. “Make sure everyone has a Post-it!” was my first idea, without thinking.
‘Making sure that everyone contributes’ is a basic principle when working with a team; supporting the self-organising capacity of its members is at the centre of everything I do as a team coach. Creating and systematically maintaining a consistent space, a framework of interactions where all team members have the invitation and opportunity to contribute, is essential.
Sometimes, this is the most important ingredient of the overall impact of the day, pointing to more empowerment and engagement. Teams encouraged to work in this space start acting more and more democratically, absorbing the principle: ‘Everyone has an equal role in the team without hierarchy, regardless of position’.
Asking for personal ’Best Hopes’ at the beginning of a team coaching session, is consequently an important step of platform building, with clear multiple messages: ‘Everyone has an equal right to have a best hope for the collective work of the day’ ‘Everyone has the right to voice their best hopes’ ‘Everyone is responsible for having some reasonable motivation to sit in the room with the others and work together – other than being sent by their manager.
What if some team members do not have a best hope? It has occurred a few times in the teams I have worked with in Hungary. On a couple of occasions, I “elegantly” overlooked the situation saying, “It’s OK; you don’t have to have a best hope” – in an attempt to meet the client where they are.
It proved to be a mistake every time. In the absence of personal involvement and commitment, they were the very people who did not relate to the results of the shared work at the end of the day, the ones who failed to appreciate progress and were dissatisfied.
I have now made it mandatory for myself at the beginning of every team coaching session to ‘Make sure everyone has a Post-it.’ Then team members put the Post-its saying what they want on the wall or a flip chart, something they can refer back to at the end. Platform building is important, and personal platform building must be part of it.
As an example, in a manufacturing company in Hungary, I asked my usual’ best hopes' question after some energising warm-ups with a team of vocational trainers who were called together to work on their cooperation. I handed out Post-its and markers and waited. Most of the team members started writing their best hopes. However, 2 team members didn’t. “Does everyone have a best hope?” was my next question after a few minutes, intending to give a slight push. These two shook their heads and said: “Nope.”
“So, how about starting with the others? Maybe you get inspired”, was my next move in a playful, joking and hopeful manner. Indeed, team members stepped up and came forward with clear best hopes. At the end of the round, I turned to the members with no Post-it yet and raised the ‘best hope’ question again, kindly and easily. The answer from both was: “None. I cannot think of a best hope. How about just carrying on?”
My dilemma was clear. Pushing them further to come up with a best hope when they made it clear they did not have one, meant doing more of what had not worked before, and it did not seem very respectful either. Overlooking the absence of a best hope was not an option. “How come you don’t have a best hope?” did not seem to be pointing in a useful direction.
Since I could not think of a better solution, I stood up and told the truth: “Well, we cannot go on until everyone has a best hope. A team is a team of individuals; individual aspirations fuel the team’s motivation. I have deep respect for you all as a team and everyone as a team member – so I would like to ask for a personal best hope, to start working with you as a team.” I sat down and waited.
To my surprise, the team members stepped in at this moment. “Come on, how can you say you do not have a best hope?!” they asked. “Last time we had a cigarette together, you said it would be great to…..” They started self-organising, turned directly to their peers, and beautifully resolved the situation.
I decided to build on what was already happening, so I asked the team: “How else can you support them to have their own best hopes?” Several team members gave the two colleagues encouragement, hints and suggestions based on what they knew about them (they were all close buddies). Finally, everyone had a best hope. I was also happy to appreciate the team’s ability to self-organise and give support.
This was a little “case”, a small intermezzo in a team development programme, but it shows an essential aspect of SF work in teams. Solution Focus team interventions can be playful and light, allowing much freedom and flexibility for both the coach and the team. They may resemble a dance with and around emergence - as long as you firmly observe certain rigorous rules that keep the space clear. Platform building and shared agreements provide the stability necessary for the dance.