The Lightning Round to guide your team through storming to performing

When a team starts working together, it’s all well and good…for a while.  Then the “storm” hits.  Conflict and tensions rise.  What is a leader to do?  This is a critical point in a team’s cultural development that takes a skillful leader to guide through the treacherous season so that the team can build trust and effectiveness.

Do you have what it takes to man the helm of these treacherous waters of the storm phase of team development?

Here’s a cool exercise that I’ve done dozens of times that is uniquely designed for this crucial phase.  It’s basically a custom designed conversational scrimmage, a role play event to see how well we can use the conversation skills of inquiry and advocacy.

Before we get too far, let’s get some definitions first.

To have a learning conversation, that is, one in which we help all of us to see all the perspectives and generate ideas, we need to do two things:

  • Thing 1: We need to help others explain to us what THEY are thinking; we need to make others’ thinking visible to us. While there are several terms for this, I like the term inquiry as defined in Senge’s Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. It means we “inquire” so as to learn the others’ perspectives.
  • Thing 2: We need to help others to see our thinking, to make our ideas, perspectives visible to them. This is called advocacy, as we advocate our understanding of the topic.

Most of us in our childhood were told about having two ears and one mouth. Many of us have heard that we should seek first to understand, then be understood (tip of the hat to Covey).  We are supposed to be quick to listen and slow the speak (James 1:19).

But are we?

Back to my story: In this exercise, each person gets a role that they assume in a scenario. I custom design the scenario so that the role and the scenario make sense to them in the context of their real profession. I do add a bit of a stretch to the scenario to accelerate the tension in the roles.

As the exercise plays out, I have noticed a very common approach.

People advocate their position.

A lot.

The exercise usually starts by someone who has a need to speak to think.  It’s rarely rude or obnoxious (because these same people know I’m watching the exercise).  Many times they appear to invite other opinions, but it’s really a time for them to be the first to put their opinion out there.

So, here’s the realization I came to this past time. With only the rare exception, it’s always started by someone advocating their perspective and that kicks off a chain reaction of people counter advocating.

Have you seen these battles of advocating an idea and then counter advocating?  What happens usually?  Loudest voice wins, most persistent voice, stalemate?  These are NOT trust and effectiveness building scenarios.

How to have conversations differently

There are those few rare exceptions where there’s a subtle, small shift.  Someone who invites each person a small window to put their thoughts out there, to basically do a forceful inquiry. This has had the effect of kicking off a chain reaction of inquiry.  The effect of a chain reaction of inquiry?? Building understanding which leads to trust and then effectiveness.

How’d they do that?  It’s simple, and I call it the lightning round. (some call it the popcorn round, and there’s a few other names).  It is super simple.

The lightning round is an intentional start of the meeting.  Each person is given 1-2 minutes to state how they see the way ahead and how they see what’s in hand

Notice what I stated here. People are stating what they see as ‘success’ and what they see as their current ‘assets’ to achieve that success. This is not a whine session. It’s not a time for each person to spend their 2 minutes stating how hard, how bad, how stupid…no.  The lightning round is a way for the team to inquire each person, so that when it’s done there is a group appreciation of each perspective of success, and a stockpile of ‘things that we have in our favor’.

Now, here’s another rule for this lightning round.  No one can speak for less than 30 seconds.  In other words, no one can bail out by saying stuff like “I was just told to be here” or “I don’t know, I’ll have to see how this pans out.”  Everyone contributes.

Do you see the difference?

This is what is really cool. This simple conversation establishes a tone of listening, rather than a tone of competing to get my opinion out there in the vocal space.


Do you have a meeting where you’ll need to solve a really sticky problem? Start it with a lightning round.

Step one: Each person states their perspective of where the group is headed, i.e. what does success look like to them.

Step two: The person states what they have to pull it off, what assets or strengths that team has to help them achieve that success.

2 minutes max person.  30 seconds minimum.

Oh.  To set the stage, you as a leader should go first, or last. Going first allows each person to see where you are coming from and gives you a way to demonstrate how the lightning round is conducted.  Going last shows a respect for the team’s opinion over your own. Either way can work depending on your style.

Side benefit: When you as a leader set this as an ongoing expectation or habit, people will be more apt to come to the meeting prepared.  Maybe you could let them know that there will be a lightning round in the meeting invite.


Can you tell we get excited about making simple changes to greatly change team culture?  These sorts of exercises use the term gamification. For us at eNthusaProve, we like designing gamifications that are custom fitted to our clients.  It’s fun with a purpose of learning. You can’t beat that combo of efficiency and results.  


(Visited 352 times, 1 visits today)