How do Leaders grow business opportunities during COVID times?

How do Leaders grow business opportunities during harsh and unforgiving COVID times?

Conversational Intelligence® can pave the way.

Featured in this Blog is an image of ‘sandstone-like’ Faces.  The impressive 2.5 metre artwork enhances the side of a building on a street corner.

I photographed it because I was drawn to the range of human expressions.  For this Blog, I feel the artwork emphasises how we bring different things to the conversation. 

Sharing insights as a Team Coach

I thought I’d share some insights as a Team Coach.  They ‘hone in’ on simple evidence-based principles and activities for top meetings which incrementally build high performing teams.  They inspired me because the return on investment is massive, both in terms of relationships and business results.

A great leader brings out differences in their team members to craft a cohesive way forward.

This especially during these sensitive COVID and BLM times.  They are based on emotionally connecting with people.

Are you just tired?
  • Are you getting tired of conversations where people take positions and lobby for their point of view rather than seek the truth of what is really going on?  They may even raise their voice because they don’t feel heard.  May be you’ve actually been in such conversations?
So what? What’s the thing with Meetings/conversations?

I use the words ‘conversation’ and ‘meetings’ interchangeably.  

  • Meetings with more senior participants especially need to be places where ideas are co-created and brought together.  This is partly because they are very expensive: consider the cost of the talent and the lost opportunity costs.  
  • However meetings, are often a breeding ground for wasted effort and frustration, especially when the stakes are high / ‘the heat is on’ to perform miracles during these unforgiving pandemic times.  
    • I believe that looking closely at conversations is a very worthwhile and inspiring endeavour because of its immediate power to change the vibe in a regenerative way.    Culture is built one conversation at a time.  So every conversation we have matters.  Co-creating a positive feeling in the meeting is important because people remember how they to feel about the conversation, rather than the content.  And that’s how you build a great reputation – one positive conversation at a time.  [Whether you like it or not, you have a reputation].
    • I’ve experienced the magic of positive conversations with my own eyes and heart.  The positive vibe gives people further energy to whole heartedly participate.  We do not as a rule set out to be difficult.  It’s more likely that tiredness, our egos and / or fear get in the way.  
    • It is the incremental nature of conversations where the magic lies: Build enough of these transformational conversations, and you have yourself a High Performing Team.
The 3 Levels of Conversation – Conversational Intelligence®

Dr Judith E Glaser the originator of Conversational Intelligence® says that Transformational conversations are about ‘exchanging energy, co-creating and transforming ideas and outcomes with others’.   You’ll hear people Share and Discover around what is possible.  This then opens them up to broader insights and wisdom than either of them now has.  In essence the business results can be exponential.

  • Imagine experiencing an enjoyable, open and light business  meeting that has cadence to it!  As a leader these results are at your finger tips. 
  • These skills are an important part of one’s tool kit as a leader and they are accessible.  Great meetings are not just the domain of professional facilitators but of great leaders.
A business growth example – How Leaders grow business opportunities during harsh and unforgiving COVID times

Here is a business example of how using the tools of Conversational Intelligence® can grow business opportunities.  The tools also enhance and regenerate relationships.

A distributed team

The senior distributed team was made up of qualified accountants in this global firm.  Each of them had ‘acquired’ a portfolio of business development as senior role holders. 

Need for Psychological Safety First

Over the months that I had been working with them as their Team Coach, they had cultivated a pretty robust platform of psychological safety, []. August Public Inc. have also completed an  interview with Amy C. Edmondson, one of the originators of the term psychological safety, [   

Agreeing Ways of Working (including ‘Chatham House Rules’, Speak for Yourself, Share the Air), help build psychological safety.  As Amy C. Edmondson has researched, psychological safety is a fundamental building block for high performing teams.  This was subsequently supported by Google’s research in 2012 of its own teams [Project Aristotle].  

Jacqueline Peters, PhD [] states that trust is built over time from many landmark moments of psychological safety [as experienced by its participants].  In my experience trust is a result of many things.  It cannot be forced.  It grows from team members honouring their promises with follow-up and action. 

The distributed Team in the example, was a blend of ex-CFO’s from commerce, as well as senior Associates.  Some team members had business development training whilst others did not.  So there was a variety of talents and experiences.

In a circle of chairs (no tables by design) the team members were to note trends in part 1, and then in part 2, they were to brainstorm growth (service/sector/geography country) opportunities.  

The session had begun well, as they clarified their common ground (purpose, benefits) and each of them ‘checked in’ to get present as embodied leaders.  Embodied Leaders is a term coined by Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Phd] [].  

A positive vibe is important 

We had co-created a pleasant and open ‘vibe’ where feelings and thoughts flowed.  Creating a positive vibe means participants relax and have greater access to their head heart and gut intelligences.  This is NOT a ‘band aid approach’ where we cover up symptoms, but rather where we spend time and focus on co-creating a safe and creative container for participants to fully contribute.   It is based on neuro-scientific evidence, applied by Judith E. Glaser in the development of her Conversational Intelligence® suite of tools.

Priming helps

In the build up to the second part of the session, we primed ourselves for bigger interconnected thinking.  This was to pave the way for spotting [and building ideas around’] growth opportunities. 

For example, team members participated in exercises such as Joseph Jastrow’s rabbit-duck illusion [], as well as the improvisation exercise ‘Yes…And’ [].  These exercises are tools to agilely remind team members to be open and to co-create a unified flow of conversation.

Moving forward from Level II Conversations

Despite these priming activities, some of us noticed the growing tendency from the team to jockey for position and ‘compete for air time’ with their different points of view.  This was something which I eventually called out.  I said ‘we’ve gone from a Level III conversation (Transformational) to a Level II (Positional) one’. This is limiting us.  Question: ‘what ideas do each of you have to return to a more calm, reflective co-creative conversation?’.  Silence was followed by a couple of ideas.  These were “get back to our purpose of today and our agreed Ways of Working”.  Both were relevant suggestions. A suggestion: ‘Firstly, how about trying something more physical to break the mood?’  We then got out of our chairs.  Team members agreed to participate in the Helium Stick Team Building Exercise [].  They were going ahead in trust whilst not knowing the detail of the exercise.  

Being largely the type of folk who were more ‘thinkers’ than ‘doers’ the prospect of this exercise was a stretch.  However, getting out of their head space, transformed the mood in just 10 minutes.  The good thing about the Helium Stick Exercise is that participants FACE each other, and work to a seemingly simple common endeavour: to lower the stick down at the same time whilst keeping one’s 2 index fingers upward facing on the stick.  Some teams don’t achieve it in the first go. 

The business opportunities 

The meeting was back on track.  It had a light and positive team feeling. Team members then developed some really relevant and clever business opportunities that up until that time were unheard of.  Some of the opportunities eventually developed into packaged on-line services which delivered ongoing passive income streams.  Interestingly, team members scoped these opportunities largely in the last 10 minutes of the second part of our half hour session.  I find it interesting that team-based innovation is usually without ego and is an intense activity found in short ‘sound bites’.  It is not usually long and drawn out.  And it has a calm and rising cadence to it.

Not only did team members develop passive income streams, but also longer-term they galvanised their existing client relationships and won new clients.  Their own team-based resonant relationships held them in good stead.  They needed to give much ongoing support to each other during these testing times.  It also built a real fearless attitude in the team to ‘well, what’s next?’  Overall, the return on investment in terms of business results and relationships was massive.


Feedback from team members was: ‘we’ve really grown as both caring and independent thinkers’, ‘it was good to keep our perspective by being reminded of our Purpose as a team and our Vision’, ‘we jointly created ‘out of the box’ ideas which were surprisingly good for ‘untrained’ Business Development people’, ‘this experience was both really fun and intimate.  I’d love to be able to re-create this in my staff meetings’.

So how do Leaders grow business opportunities during harsh and unforgiving COVID times?
  • Get clear on the purpose of team and of the meeting itself
  • In a transparent way, use basic and accessible Conversational Intelligence® principles such as ‘checking-in’, ’common ground’, agreed ‘ways of working’
  • Call on the complementary strengths of team members
  • Keep the mood fun, light and moving and break it up with a range of activities that call on different parts of the participant / team member: head, heart, gut, and body-based.  Great work happens when the feeling of the session is positive.   This is because participants have greater access to their head heart and gut intelligences.
  • Ask at regular points in the meeting: ‘how’s the vibe?’ does help increase team members’ awareness of the vibe’s contribution to progress 
  • Be transparent as the facilitator.  Be experimental – with the team members’ permission.  It adds to the lightness.
  • Try out the principles for yourself in a low risk environment with trusted advisors and  entrusted colleagues.  Do ‘real plays’ and review them to fine tune skills.

It is possible for leaders to grow business opportunities during our harsh and unforgiving COVID times.  The tool kit of Conversational Intelligence®  is a very powerful tool set to do so.

When a leader understands how to bring together the differences in their team members to craft a cohesive way forward, business opportunities grow, in spite of these challenging times. The tools of Conversational Intelligence® put a framework around meaningfully connecting with people.

I’ve mentioned a few of the tools.  Give them a try for yourself in a candid and transparent way.  I am sure that you and your team will be heartened and strengthened as a result of your efforts.  That’s a big ROI.

Toni [] is a certified Conversational Intelligence® practitioner.  She works with executives and teams to have ‘conversations with legs’ that deliver measurable results for their direct benefit and their stakeholders’ benefit.

In a future Blog we will put the spotlight of attention on how to build up one’s own positive vibe as a team member.  You’ll be building an ‘irresistible’ presence for everyone’s benefit.