Watch Your Language

 In Leaders, Teams In Motion

Are your teams able to get the best thinking on the table?

Companies form cross-functional teams for a reason – we need to get very diverse experience and expertise in the same room.  Once we have the diverse expertise in the room, we need to figure out the best way to get all of the best ideas on the table, explore all of the alternatives, and then integrate and synthesize to get to the best decision.  Facilitating these types of conversations takes skill and a particular mindset.  When leading teams in the workplace, consider following a few ‘golden rules’.

  • Start with the right frame of mind.
  • Be purposeful to ensure all are heard.
  • Allow individual thinking prior to group thinking
  • Watch for ‘energy circuits’ that exclude others.
  • Watch your language!

Start with the right frame of mind. Beginning with the conversation facilitator or the team leader, everyone in the room must believe that the best decisions are going to be the result of rigorously debating the best ideas from EVERYONE in the room.  If you are not confident this is the case, it could be you don’t have the right people in the room!  But, if you are committed to hearing from everyone, even if only one person makes the decision in the end, then there are some practices you can follow to make it more likely that you will get the best ideas shared.  In fact, you should start the meeting by clearly communicating your belief that all should be heard.  That sets the tone and the expectation.

Be purposeful to ensure that all are heard.  There are so many great ideas in the minds of very quiet people!  There are different thinking styles and different communication styles – some require processing time; some can blurt out the answer or opinion. As a coach or facilitator, if you are not purposefully asking for everyone’s opinion, you won’t get ALL of the best ideas on the table, which means you will not lead the team to the BEST decisions.  Diversity of thought must be actively pursued.  Sometimes you must proactively address the dis-engaged members of your team.

Allow individual thinking prior to group thinking time for maximum impact. Everyone’s brain works differently and at different speeds.  And, again, style matters. Be sure to build-in ‘quiet’ time for individual thinking before going to a group brainstorm.  Group brainstorming activities are fabulous for getting to innovative ideas, but only if everyone has a chance to contribute.  When you need to ‘brainstorm’ a lot of ideas with the team, consider using “silent brainstorming” as a first step.  That is, offer 3-minutes of personal reflection and idea-generation before sharing anything as a group.  You’ll be amazed at the level of quality that comes from including everyone.

Watch for ‘energy circuits’ that exclude others, either intentionally or unintentionally.  A few dominant team members that agree often or think similarly can get the whole team railroaded into a less than optimal game plan!  (This is the dreaded group-think. It is most dreaded because it ‘feels so good’, but can be so dangerous if not checked!)  You can feel like the team is moving, but if you pay attention, only a few members are moving.  As a facilitator or team leader, pay attention to where agreement is coming from — if only a part of the team is actively participating and agreeing, see #2.

Watch your language! I may or may not have heard that phrase often as a younger me, but it is absolutely critical in team leadership and facilitation.  Think about the difference between these two questions:  “Why did you do it that way?” compared to “Would you share your thinking process to help us understand how you got to that recommendation?”.  Both questions are asking the same thing at the core – help me understand.  But, the word ‘why’ at the beginning can make defenses rise – “Why did you do that?  What were you thinking?”  These phrases can make even the heartiest team members cringe.  Careful phrasing of questions is another critical skill for great facilitators and team leaders.  So, watch your language!

The best teams are formed with diverse expertise and experience.  But, “expert teams” are able to optimize all of that expertise and generate incredibly innovative ideas and come to very smart decisions.

If you are interested in building these capabilities in your teams and team leaders, check out our workshops in our Teams in Motion program including Combat Cognitive Bias, Decision-Making in Action, Capitalize on Conflict, and Become a Conversation Catalyst.  We love this stuff!

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