Education Posts

5 Steps to Halt Watercooler Back-Biting and Improve Team Effectiveness

5 Steps to Halt Watercooler Back-Biting and Improve Team Effectiveness

By Lee Bason

7 years ago


Education, Business 



You’re busy – please allow me to save some of you a little time. If you are a leader who already knows how to do it all and you’re not interested in personal improvement…if you wouldn’t dream of asking your teammates for their feedback on your job performance…or if you prefer to use your power to intimidate because you believe feedback should only be given from the top-down – you probably don’t need to keep reading…

Well, good for the rest of you for wanting to be more!

I hope you saw our previous blog on Google’s research about the importance of a collaborative workplace to foster a successful team. The unfortunate truth is that many employee groups in corporate America will never get there. Their lack of trust and sometimes deep-seated (but silent) disdain for their colleagues is so prevalent, they’re more interested in breakroom back-biting than in accomplishing much together. And yet, in office buildings across our country, leaders expect – or at least, hope for – optimized achievement from their teams.

Interpersonal communication continues as one of the biggest problems for American companies. Whether in one-to-one chats or team meetings, this problem appears in the form of misunderstanding, ineffective communication, lack of accountability, self-focus, ego and mistrust. Instead of collaborating during a meeting, the honesty comes out later at the watercooler: “Man, what a waste of time,” or “I had better things to do this afternoon than be in that disaster.”

But wait! What if we invested time during our workday for building better interpersonal communication? What if leaders didn’t just use meetings to go through a list of business objectives, but approached all interactions from a relational standpoint and fostered skills that create better behavior? If your teammates actually enjoyed working together and encouraging each other, how much more might they achieve? The following tool will enable you to develop an optimized team whose effectiveness grows exponentially, leaving your non-collaborative competitors in the dust.

The EXCEL Model™ is a five-point protocol for every human interaction. It’s a communication and relationship guide, useful even when you’ve got no predetermined agenda. This protocol improves these interactions and solves the ‘bad meeting’ problem created by low-trust teams that can’t problem-solve together.

E-X-C-E-L is an acronym for the five main components of the protocol:


Can you name each of your employees’ spouses and children? If not, you may need to improve on your Engage. Personally greeting your team members and asking one or two to share a personal or professional bit of ‘good things’ helps your team get to know each other and helps them relax. When team members learn to trust one another, the gates to collaboration open wide. Teams can brainstorm more effectively, don’t take offense as easily, and are far less likely to shut down.


This is a reminder of your organization’s values and sets the stage for transparency. For example, you can say, “I’m trying to learn not to talk over others. John, will you watch and give me feedback on that?” This tells others you value their time and ensures commitment to productive and respectful interaction. You set expectations and keep the meeting on track, but more importantly, prevent team members from feeling trampled or bullied under the guise of ‘getting it done.’ X-plore builds team loyalty and captures crucial information. In face-to-face chats, check to see if your colleague needs anything from you. In larger meetings, ask if team members have questions or needs they’d like added to the agenda. Listing needs on a whiteboard ensures they will be addressed during the meeting, or at a later date if unrelated to the main reason for the meeting.


This is a two-way conversation. For planned meetings, the leader facilitates discussion on the agenda items and related team needs, while periodically checking for understanding and facilitating ‘going deeper.’ Listening well and asking clarifying questions encourages open conversation and tells the team you value their input.


Who’s going to do what by when? All meetings should move the team forward. But a meeting may not have an outcome or benefit at all unless responsibilities and due dates are specified. ‘Empower’ is also a reminder to review participants’ needs and ensure that any not yet covered will be addressed afterward.


Here, the leader revisits the feedback question and invites the team to join in. “Ok, John, did I talk over others? Do you think I was sincere about wanting to hear others’ ideas? Jennifer, did we cross the respect line when we talked about our teammates in the finance department? If so, what should we do about that? Bill, you’ve been working on weighing in more, so how do you think you did?” Finally, express appreciation for team members’ time, contributions, and effort. Let them know how thankful you are to have them as teammates and leave them feeling inspired and encouraged.

Click here for the EXCEL at Meetings downloadable PDF. Following this process involves everyone from the beginning and assures participants that their voices are important and their needs will be met. This tool helps leaders practice the important people skill of relating successfully with others, either one-on-one or in a group. You’ll find yourself feeling more prepared and competent as you facilitate discussions and wrap up on time. Attendees leave the meeting with a sense of accomplishment and appreciation.

For more details on how Flippen Group processes can help your team, call us at 1-800-413-3611 or email us at

Lee Bason

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