Bridge Building

“Bridge Building”: A Facilitated Forum to Help Employees and Senior Management Have Better Communication, Relationship and Trust

As a senior manager, do you wish that:
You knew about issues and problems in a more timely way, without distortion or “spin” from the middle?

You could keep a routine pulse on the morale of the organization without using costly, and often ineffective, employee surveys?

You could hear constructive feedback and suggestions for the organization, given by knowledgeable employees on the front line, who most affect productivity, customer satisfaction and quality?

More employees understood your organizational directions, challenges and goals?

There was a stronger sense of “we’re in this together” between employees and the senior management team, with more trust, openness and candor in the relationship?

As a front line employee, do you wish that:
Senior management better understood your challenges and frustrations, and knew more about some of your ‘unsung’ successes and efforts?

There was more opportunity to look at the ‘Big Picture’ of your organization, with your peers, to discuss how to make things more effective at your level and with senior management? There was a more effective way to offer honest feedback and constructive ideas to senior managers, that would be more timely than an annual employee survey, more anonymous than a “roundtable”, and less embarrassing than raising your hand at an all group meeting?

There was a safer way to ask senior managers tough but important questions, without fear of reprisal or public embarrassment?

There could be a forum in which two-way respectful dialogue could occur between you and your peers and senior management, to address problems directly, exchange advice, and where you felt valued as a partner in the success of your organization?

Most senior managers and employees can answer ‘yes’ to at least some of these questions. It is a strange artifact in today’s workplaces that most “communication” is one way: from the senior levels to the lower levels. Indeed, when most organizations consider a “communications strategy”, or have a “communications meeting”, it is most often about the top communicating to the middle and the front. However, in our personal lives, with those we care about, we know that communication must be two-way. If there is respect in the relationship, feedback, honesty and sharing must be routine and roughly balanced. Somehow, at work, we have forgotten this piece of common sense, and then we wonder why employees in all organizations typically complain that communications are poor and that they are not sufficiently informed. What they also mean, even if it is unstated, is that they are not sufficiently being asked, and are not in real dialogue with senior levels.

The Bridge-Building Forum © addresses this issue practically. It is a two hour session in which employees, in groups of 15-25, are facilitated to reach collective agreement on:

  • – What is going well?
  • – What is not going well?
  • – What responsibility do they have for creating or sustaining the problems and what can they do about them?
  • – What advice and constructive feedback do they have for senior management to help address these current problems and challenges?
  • – What 5-6 questions do they have for the senior managers?

Once the employee group has developed the above information and scribed it on flipcharts, the senior managers, ideally two or three but no more than four, then join the employees; hear the answers to the above questions; and respond appropriately with comments and spontaneous questions.

In short, the senior managers engage in a constructive, facilitated dialogue with the employee group. Because the employees’ responses are developed collectively, and represent the views of the whole group, there is a ‘safety in numbers’ which permits them to raise relevant issues, offer candid feedback, and ask tough questions. Unlike most “communications meetings” or roundtables, individuals are not asked to ‘raise their hand’ and personally risk asking or telling something difficult. The opinions and questions of the group have been prepared ahead of time and are written on the flipchart as collective output. However, it should also be noted that this is not a ‘complaint session’, or an opportunity for employees to criticize without taking responsibility. The nature of the questions and the format keeps the tone constructive, positive and focused on problem solving. As well, the facilitator ensures that talking and listening are practiced courteously by both the senior managers and employees.

Can senior mangers sometimes be surprised by information they hear presented in a Bridge-Building Forum? Will there be suggestions that may be difficult to hear or act on? And will there be a few tough questions from employees that they would rather not address? Depending on the organization, the answer may be ‘yes’ to all of the above. For the dialogue to be fully effective, senior managers must enter into the session open, and hopefully curious to hear new information; not defensive about feedback or advice; and with an understanding that relationships are strengthened by really listening and letting others be heard. In short, senior managers have to care about hearing the employees’ perception of how things are in the organization.

As Bridge Building is done more often, ideally two or three times a year, the surprises occur less, the anxiety of both employees and senior managers goes down, and the value of the sessions as a way to stay current with morale, learn about organizational issues, and solicit suggestions, goes up.

Call 585-241-3038 today to meet Seth and start to revitalize your organization.

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