Ignoring the elephant in the room – is it an option?

IMG_3227So here is the story……. you are running a team leader development programme, instigated by the MD and half way through, the company get bought out and the MD is replaced by a group CEO, whose management style is unknown as is their support for the programme. The next workshop is about the customer journey, continuous process improvement and delegation, all of which, you may argue can continue without an obvious leader? The elephant in the room is going to be apparent, the question is what would you do with it?

Reflecting on this real life issue that I was faced with last week, I felt I had a number of choices:

  • Press on into the programme, selling the benefits of the learning and ignore the elephant
  • If they want to, allow them to have a good moan about the situation during the day and prepare for that
  • Liaise with HR to organise a separate session with some of the senior management team so they can handle it
  • Confront the elephant – ask them how the departure affects them (their concerns) on a shared message board,  but also ask for some possible solutions to the concerns, prior to the workshop, with some time in the workshop to voice these (with senior managers present)

You could possibly argue the merits of any of these solutions, but I opted for the latter. From my observations, this is what happened and what did not happen:

  • People used the opportunity to air their concerns in a very professional manner
  • There were an equal number of concerns and also possible solutions
  • All the solutions were practical and helpful
  • There was a need to not only share the concerns but to discuss them
  • Some senior managers were able to address some of the issues, though not to solve them
  • They were able to appreciate how others felt
  • Some felt the same, others felt differently
  • Some were quite positive, others less so, but willing to listen
  • Everyone was respectful of each others feelings
  • There was a lot of empathy
  • There were a couple of actions arising from the discussion which involved further communication with the new “leaders”
  • Those who shared their concerns were open and honest

What did not happen

  • Everyone did not walk away with a complete solution – things are still in flux, it is a fact of the current situation
  • Not everyone expressed their opinion in the discussion
  • No ones feelings were dismissed as being irrelevant
  • People were not distracted by their concerns but engaged with the learning for the day

So was this the best way to deal with the elephant? Only time will tell…….. when faced with an elephant, my only advice would be not to ignore it. You can only make a decision about how to tackle it, based on the information before you, the support available and your willingness to listen and be empathetic. Oh and honesty is always best…… I am sure you already knew that one!




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