Tell me about a time when this went well

A Lessonly manager walked into my office with a problem. A recurring handoff from one department to the next was breaking down and she didn’t know what to do about it.

I used an appreciative inquiry technique for reframing the conversation to better understand what we were after: “Can you tell me about a time when one of these handoffs went really well?” She immediately shared an example. This made it easy for us to see what we were aiming for (handoffs that go well), as opposed to what we weren’t (handoffs that break down).

Two more questions helped us reverse-engineer her positive example: “What were the circumstances that led to that handoff going well? What were you and others doing that made it possible?” The manager began to recount the interactions and behaviors that preceded the handoff. We noted them as she went: “Marshall did this, and then Dominique did that.” By the time she was done, we had a recipe for making handoffs go smoothly. We left the headspace of this thing is broken and found the headspace of we know how to make this work.

After our meeting, the manager got the departments together and reviewed what a good handoff looks like. She reminded the group why specific elements of a handoff are important to everyone’s success. Sure enough, as more people came to understand why handoffs matter and how to do them, future handoffs got smoother and smoother.

This manager was also thoughtful about revisiting the handoff process every couple of months. She didn’t assume everyone would remember everything she’d said during the handoff review. Instead, she continued to focus on the topic because it continued to matter. That’s good leadership—if it still matters, keep saying it. Once people begin playfully mocking you about the topic, you’ll know you’re getting through.

Hope this helps! Have a great week.




This is Max’s note—a weekly message from Lessonly’s CEO about learning, leadership, and doing Better Work. Sign up below to subscribe via email. No spam, we promise!

Ask clarifying questions
Not once, not twice, but twenty times