When department heads at Harborside Graphics Sportswear, in Belfast, Maine, tried to get honest feedback from team leaders at monthly meetings, the result was often awkward silence. Apparently, none of the team leaders, who report to the department heads at the $12 million T-shirt business, wanted to speak first about what wasn't working at the company.

Finally, the top managers asked team leaders to meet together ahead of time to discuss concerns among themselves. Now, after the team leaders have decided how to present their agenda, the department heads join the meeting--and get the candid feedback they need. Team leader Shelly Alex says it's comforting to know that other departments have similar concerns, and it's been easier to make suggestions with peer support.