There is a reasonably well known scientific fact about frogs; if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water it will immediately leap out. It realises that the temperature of the water is too hot and it is about to scald itself to death. However, if you put a frog into a pot of cold water and slowly bring it to the boil the frog will stay there and, unfortunately, pass away into frog heaven.
Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that anyone goes out and tries this. Just take it as fact. This simple truth, however, of the frog being unable to recognise the slow but increasingly deadly change in temperature to its health is similar to what we humans do. We tend to react to the urgent and sudden matters that come to our attention rather than the things that creep up on us over time but can be just as harmful. This applies to business, relationships, finances, and personal health – basically everything in life. A useful way to minimise the likelihood of something, preventable and minor at first, becoming a significant risk to us is to take the pulse of a business, team or venture occasionally but regularly. A practical way of doing that is to have what I call a ‘Frog’ conversation; hence my story about the frog in a pot of water.
A Frog conversation is a regular conversation based around 4-5 questions that invite us to reflect on, comment on, and learn from recent experiences and upcoming events. When done regularly it becomes part of our culture and way of doing things and is a very useful way of taking the temperature of the environment around us. In practical terms it can nip issues in the bud, prevent issues from growing, and create an environment that is open to learning, adaptation to change, and teamwork.
An example of a Frog conversation at the end of a working week with a team might be, for example (naturally the manager or team leader asking the questions also answers them for him or herself):
1. Thinking about what you worked on this week what went well, and why do you think it went well?
2. Looking back what’s one thing that, in hindsight, you could have improved how you did and why?
3. Looking back what did you learn about our business, our market, our customers or a colleague?
4. What have we got coming up that we need to focus on and remind ourselves of in the week or two ahead?
5. How could we have improved or done better for you, within reason, this past week as an employee and team member?
Or with a team that comes together to work on a project from time to time but doesn’t see each other regularly:
1. What factors have helped our teamwork in the past week or so?
2. Thinking about what we’ve got coming up on this project what’s the biggest challenge ahead for you, and what do you need from the rest of us to manage that challenge effectively?
3. Looking back on the past few weeks what’s one area where we could have done it better in hindsight, and why do we think that?
4. Looking back on the past few weeks what’s an area you believe we managed well or poorly - an element of the project, relationships, systems…it could be anything you like – that made us a stronger or weaker team as a result?
There are any number of permutations of a Frog conversation. Come up with your own questions. You don’t need many but they need to be relevant, consistent (i.e. the same questions asked in each session), reflective, balanced and regularly scheduled. These five factors create an opportunity for dialogue that shapes culture, builds teamwork, and provides a simple and quick opportunity to avoid being a frog.