Managers, does this situation sound familiar?
You've huddled your team together in a conference room to tackle a pressing topic. You kick off the meeting by explaining the dilemma and recommend a solution. Then, you open it up for comments and questions from the team.
But instead of saying something, the group remains awkwardly silent until the dead air is so deafening that you decide to end the meeting.
Although your team is likely glad the meeting is over, I think we would all agree that there are some underlying issues that need to be addressed.
There are ample amounts of research on the benefits of diverse and inclusive teams. Unfortunately, many organizations never realize them due to team conditions that unintentionally stymie creativity. These environments lack psychological safety, suffer from groupthink, and inadvertently push conformity.
We have to get in front of these concerns to ensure employees feel safe speaking up and teams benefit from their unique perspective.
Speaking to the not-so-hypothetical situation above, setting the right tone is critical to disarming employees and soliciting their input. To do this:
Push a "team-first" mentality.
Employees are conditioned to rank-and file. Unless prompted, they will internalize conflicting ideas to ensure they don't ruffle any feathers or stand out. For consensus and efficiency's sake, this is great. But if you're truly interested in crafting the best solution, you'll have to create an open environment where employees believe it's safe to challenge the status quo and think creatively.
To do this, openly advocate for risk-taking and try your hardest not to immediately shut down ideas different from yours. Every time an employee holds back a question or comment, they are potentially robbing the entire team of a learning opportunity. You want to reassure them that speaking up is in the best interest of the team.
A team-first mentality should be taken literally. Rather than talking incessantly, ask the team to weigh in on issues and propose solutions first. Shift your mindset from dictating the conversation to directing it. Help the team land on mutually agreed upon solutions by asking questions to facilitate problem-solving.
Model desired behavior and acknowledge your vulnerabilities.
Employees follow their manager's lead. If you want your team to feel safe asking questions and sharing diverse ideas, then you'll have to practice what you preach.
In my experience, most employees withhold thoughts for fear of discovery. They don't want others to figure out their limitations.
Managers can diffuse apprehension by voluntarily disclosing their weaknesses and reinforcing that learning is critical to the team's ability to execute.
Although it may feel counterintuitive, managers should not rush teams to a point of consensus. They should encourage open dialogue and foster environments where every employee feels included and safe interjecting their perspective.