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ImageHaving trouble engaging your team at meetings? Lin Sagovsky shares some insights on effective team communication and leadership.

As an actor and playwright with over 20 years’ experience in the business world, Lin Sagovsky helps business people to discover that better performance in the workplace depends upon practical explorations of the value of rehearsal.

Through her consultancy, Play4Real, Lin has created and ran interactive plays, workshops in leadership and other interpersonal skills as well as private coaching in confident speaking – by making it fun. In this article, Lin shares insights that she has observed on team leadership.

"A year or so ago I was asked to work for a couple of months as an Arts Associate alongside a team of senior managers at Unilever. My brief was to help them understand their identity and so improve their effectiveness, both as a team and as the individuals who made up that team – in order to turn it into ‘more than the sum of its parts’. I topped and tailed the Associateship with exploratory group workshops, and in between, spent time with each individual to use as he or she chose.

Exploring Team Leadership

Some wanted me to work exclusively on straightforward personal impact techniques in private coaching sessions; others were also keen for me to shadow them moving about the office having ad hoc conversations at people’s desks; or to give them feedback on their writing style in round-robin e-mails; or to help them prepare for a specific big presentation to their own superiors. These requests engendered a cyclical process which itself became a fantastic means of learning for me about the principles I teach. I would give verbal feedback on what I witnessed, translate that into practical exercises with the individual manager to develop new awareness and technique, and finally would again watch how that was being applied on the hoof, in the moment, back in the workplace itself.

ImageWhat fascinated me more than anything was the opportunity this gave me to become a fly on the wall as my coachees led meetings, of which there were many, and often with numerous attendees. Regular team updates could last three hours or more, with fifteen or twenty people cramming themselves into a corridor-shaped board room to sit in two long rows at a table (no-one ever wanted to sit at the head). Eye contact with whomever was speaking was therefore an impossibility for most, and if that person was a mumbler (most were), the soporific hum of the air conditioning and generally sagging energy around the table as the meeting lumbered on meant that any speaker wound up, in effect, addressing only those seated nearest - while the rest slumped progressively lower in their chairs, frowning at whatever it was they were picking out from under their own fingernails.

Engaging the Team

Several of my managers were rightly concerned about this, and at a loss as to how to get – and keep – their people engaged. And the great thing was to be able to suggest a few very simple things about energy, and spatial relationships, and eye contact, and environment, and all the non-verbal stories being told by the things and people around us to which we continuously respond as human beings - mostly without knowing it, much less understanding what a difference a small alteration can make… and then to see the light dawning in the eyes of whichever manager it was I was working with.

ImageThis is not to say all their meetings suffered from the finger-picking epidemic. One of the best I witnessed was a tough-talking strategy meeting with eight or nine top guys (yes, they were all male, alas), chaired by the leader of my team, responding to some disastrous figures for the previous month’s sales. My manager wanted my feedback on his style – which was undoubtedly gung-ho, macho, and entirely appropriate for a roomful of men who appreciated a sporting metaphor or a military simile, and could also enjoy a good joke. Watching that meeting taught me a lot about rhythm. The talk was hard and fast and intense – energised and decisive. But every so often my manager would throw in a quip, and everyone would laugh and sit back for a moment with a grin on his face. Then it would be onwards with fresh attack for the next agenda point. What my manager was doing, quite unconsciously, was providing communal breathing space. A moment for stepping back, absorbing what had just been said, lightening the focus, allowing the breath to leave the body on a chuckle or a sigh… and so create room for new inhalation, arriving in the body as the vehicle for fresh inspiration for the individual, and so for the whole meeting.

Dare to Breathe

I say it to leaders again and again: dare to reach a full stop. Dare to breathe. Give space to the process of inspiration and expression to establish its own rhythm. We all need breathing space, and it is often the first thing an under-confident leader overrides – particularly under pressure.

The more I work to help leaders discover space – space to breathe, space to relate, space to allow the recipient, the audience, to come towards me rather than me relentlessly trying to bludgeon them with whatever is on my agenda – the more I see real connection, real humanity, and real creation blossom. It’s a privilege to me to deepen my own discovery of these truths and feed them back to businesspeople.”

Following a BA Hons. in Drama from Manchester University, Lin Sagovsky trained to act at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, then studied for a Master's degree in Playwriting in the USA. Alongside a career as an actor and voice artist, in the mid 1980s she began scripting corporate training and marketing films for organisations like Shell International, British Aerospace, Prudential, the Post Office, the Alzheimer's Society and the Foreign Office. Over the years she has become passionate about taking drama beyond the walls of the theatre or recording studio to combine her skills in a spectrum of live business contexts: as a role-player and forum theatre performer, a writer and director of interactive plays, a facilitator of interpersonal skills workshops, a private coach in speaking with confidence, and a creative consultant. Recent clients have included Compass Group, Baker Tilly, Unilever, 2TG Barristers’ Chambers, The Housing Corporation, The Medical Research Council, Mars, Unilever, Henley College of Management, SGAM, UBS and Zurich Commercial. You can find more information about Lin and her work at www.play4real.co.uk – or contact her on 07957 331997, or at info@play4real.co.uk.

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