Inbox exercises are often used when there is an evaluation of leadership/management style and skills or training in time management, judgment or decision-making. I believe the value of this resource lies in revealing the thought processes of an exercise participant. It reveals HOW the person going through the exercise reasons and reacts to typical tasks that they could face as a manager or supervisor.
While you can keep track of how many pages the person completed within the time provided or how many of the actions the person chose aligned with what is considered “correct” in your company (and desired company culture) the highest value (for me) is the coaching conversations that can be had around the reasons that the actions were chosen. These conversations can really help leaders understand their impact on others and improve their self-awareness as a result.
The exercise setup
The attached inbox exercise requires you to print out items and provide them to intended participants in the exercise. The first page describes the situation which you should share with the participant(s) as part of the exercise. The next two pages are then for your eyes only and they will help you to understand the set-up and what you, as the facilitator, should do with that particular exercise page. The section that follows behind the “Worksheet” page is provided to participants once the Q and A portion of the instructions discussion is over.
Once the participant understands the scenario the worksheets are handed out to him/her to complete. This is the inbox exercise and it is usually a timed exercise. Exercises include aspects like this:
- If you choose to include priory setting as one of the test elements, consider using something like the Eisenhower/Covey matrix:
You can read more about it here : Priority matrix write-up If you decide to include priority-setting as an element, this approach will give you a better foundation for debriefing discussions.
- You can use this exercise with a class of participants and then I would suggest you have each participant check the work of his/her neighbor once the exercise has been timed-out. Read out the action considered best for each of the incidents and assign a score for correct answers. Of course you can use your own judgment when some participants have similar answers/responses, but just worded it differently.
- I prefer to use this with a small group of people who are in a coaching program. The results of their work can then be debriefed more fully with their coaches who can explore their responses deeper by asking questions around : how did they interpret the note/incident? Why did they choose that action? Did they consider other options? If so, which ones? How/why did they decide to select that particular action? How did the limited time impact their thinking and responses?
Leaders learn through reflection and an experience such as this inbox exercise is full of opportunities to reflect on own actions, choices and mindsets. The hardest part about improving one’s mindset or way of doing things, is gaining awareness of one’s own style or impact on others. The specific examples that come out of this inbox exercise is a very tangible basis for reflection with a coach and then choosing better ways in the future.