By Keith Coats
Not everybody participates in important team / agenda discussions. You want to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and this is especially the case in those important strategic and / or team dynamic discussions where final outcomes can be undermined by not having had everyone express where they stand on the issue at hand.
The Soft Shoe Shuffle. No this isn’t some salsa class (although that might not be a bad idea!). The Soft Shoe Shuffle is a dynamic way to ensure that ‘nobody hides’ during an important discussion.
Here is how it works:
On a select topic / agenda item have everyone stand in a circle. The topic gets articulated and ‘placed in the middle of the circle’. For example, with everyone standing in a circle, you might say, “We are now going to discuss why we don’t seem to be able to hit our targets consistently as a team” or “I would like us to discuss how best we can take our team to the next level and what issues we might need to address in order to do so”. The topic can be anything but the Soft Shoe Shuffle is very effective when dealing with a ‘difficult’ or sensitive topic: The kind of topic that we all know we need to get out into the open, but struggle to do so.
Once the topic is set, every subsequent comment then represents a ‘position in the circle’. So I might say (in response to the latter example), “Well I don’t think we have any issues as a team”. At the time I say that I might be standing at 6 O’ clock in the circle. If others agree with this statement they would move to stand in the position where the comment was made. If one completely disagrees with it, they would take up a position in the circle directly opposite the position from where the statement was made (at 12 O’ clock). People can then move closer to the ‘statement’ or further signalling to what extent they agree or disagree with what was said.
So, with every comment made as the discussion unfolds, participants have to show where they stand by moving around the circle. Their position expresses an opinion whether or not they say something. What this means is that you can say something very provocative and then distance yourself from your own statement by immediately moving but the opinion remains. So, going back to my earlier example, having made the comment whilst standing at 6 O’clock, I can then immediately shift to say 8 O’clock signalling that I don’t fully agree with what I have just said but the opinion stands, affording others the chance to identify with it by taking up the 6 O’clock position that I have just vacated. This gives others the chance to identify with that statement without having had to verbalise it. This can be a very powerful (and liberating) tool in unlocking difficult conversations and evoking the ‘unspoken’.
At first the conversation might be somewhat static as people get used to speaking and shuffling, speaking and shuffling but it soon picks-up momentum as everyone gets used to the continual moving.
Make sure people move in relation to every comment made. Every now and then ‘freeze frame’ the situation and process observe who is standing where and note what is happening in the room.
Be aware that the Soft Shoe Shuffle can unlock deep emotions. However, having difficult conversations in a team is never easy and this dynamic exercise ensures that all the voices are heard regardless of little they may speak.
Try it with some ‘safer’ topics and for people to get used to it before perhaps putting a sensitive topic in the middle. Know that it is a very powerful way of unlocking deep and meaningful conversation in which nobody ‘can hide’. Plan for some sort of ‘decompression’ following using the exercise if you encounter emotive issues.