This is probably one of the biggest challenges in the workplace. If you don’t attempt to create a culture where your colleagues feel that they can talk, provide input and give feedback then you end up with a bunch of yes men; people that have developed what is also known as “group thinking”.
“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.” ― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
Former finance industry boss Robert Pozen gives his thoughts on this very thing. In a Harvard Business Review blog post, he describes his concept, suggesting that the person leading the meeting, team or conversation a course of action, but then explicitly invites feedback and challenges to it. And, the trick is, he has to be willing to change course if a better idea is presented. So it does take a degree of humility to pursue this way of working.
This strikes the perfect balance between providing leadership and simultaneously encouraging, creating engagement and motivation for others to share their thoughts. The thing that is required is a mental preparation on your part. You have to be prepared to hear the negatives, the things challenge your initial thoughts and ideas because they may not be as good as you initially thought.
These are some techniques I’ve read up on, learnt and have successfully been able to implement. Hopefully these may be able to help you to understand this concept for yourself and perhaps use it also.
1. “Let me throw out a possibility, and you guys can play devil’s advocate.”
Why this works: With these words, you’re showing leadership by sparking discussion, but you’re not necessarily committing yourself to a course of action. By requesting critical feedback, you’re moving the dialogue forward and teasing out nuances it would be hard for one person to generate on their own.
2. “There are a few ways to approach this, and I’m leaning toward X. What do you think?”
Why this works: This is a great way to generate buy-in from your team, because you’re inviting their opinions at a crucial moment. (The converse – “consulting” people after a firm decision has been made – just highlights their lack of power.) The framing above acknowledges that a variety of options exist and indicates that you’ve contemplated the situation but aren’t yet “sold” on a decision, so the input of your team truly matters.
3. “Here’s my current thought about how to handle this – what blind-spots do you see?”
Why this works: This phrasing is helpful when you already have a clear idea of what you want to do – you’re not opening up a vague brainstorming discussion – but you also want to make sure you’re not missing anything critical. Encouraging your team to become troubleshooters focuses their energy and makes sure your decision has been vetted by others who may know things you don’t (“we can’t launch that day because the 60% of the team needed for this project are on leave”).
Using this technique is a quick way to make your team feel more involved – while generating better ideas and results. The bottom line is that managing a team is challenging – this is what this post is really talking about, but it’s rewarding and worthwhile if you invest the time and the effort.
What techniques have you used when engaging and motivating your team. What things have been successful – or not for you?