“It is not what you don’t know that often hurts you, but rather what you know, but ain’t right about.” -unknown.
Blog by Sherri Baldwin with LeadAdvantage, Inc.
We need lots of ideas and input on a team to increase the probability of better decisions.
A blueprint for success starts with input from the team. No one likes to be told what to do. Rather we all would like our ideas and thoughts heard and considered. Often times when working with a team to develop a strategic plan (blueprint), we discuss with the managers and supervisors this point of team input being critical to increased success, all of which adamantly say they do include the team in decisions. However, when we ask their team members individually if they believe they are included in decisions, rarely do we get the same answer. It is not that managers are not asking for input, but rather, they are not listening to and considering the input. Most of us have a preconceived idea of how something should be done (a picture in our mind of what the end result will look like). Once we have that image, it is very difficult to change our preconceived notion and admit there might be a better way to reach the same goal, or perhaps an alternate, more effective result. So we go to a group, or individual, and tell them the issue and how we think it should be reconciled. Then we ask for their opinions. However, any thoughts that do not mesh with our plan are rarely heard. We are armed with all the reasons their idea won’t work. This results in few individuals who will speak out against their manager’s plan. A “political” tone has been set once a manager states his/her opinion and most will not contradict that stance. There are many reasons why individuals do not feel comfortable speaking out; some are afraid their idea might be incorrect and don’t want to feel stupid, others want to be perceived as a team player, but mostly, arguing against one’s manager does not seem like a good career move. There may be some discussion on how to carry out the manager’s idea but rarely will an alternate option be considered. Studies have shown that teams make better decisions than individuals, companies encourage collaboration, and the topic is discussed in numerous training programs. So why do employees feel that their input is not solicited, heard or accepted?
In our sessions we often ask the managers to form a separate group from the team and discuss certain issues or topics. We do this in an attempt to avoid the “political agenda” that no one wants to speak against. Employees will however, speak out against “one of our own.” There is not as much to lose with team discussions where a colleague is leading versus a manager. It seems that the higher up the corporate ladder we go, the more narrow our thinking can become, and the less open we are to new ideas…or perhaps we simply believe we should have all of the answers at a certain point. In any case, it is imperative to create an environment where individuals not only want to speak up, but feel it is their obligation to speak up. If you are the manager or team leader, send an agenda ahead of time, allowing for everyone to come prepared with their thoughts. Once gathered in the meeting, state the issue (not your solution) and let the team provide input FIRST. Listen to all the responses and record if necessary, but do not comment on them, “we’ve tried that before,” or “that won’t work because…” Once everyone has had a chance to provide input and there are several options on the table, then you can discuss the idea(s) that makes the most sense for your team and your organization. In other words, narrow and prioritize the options. Then the team can reach agreement on what should be done, who should take the lead and by what date. Even better if the manager is not present and allows a team member to lead and then present the results to the manager later. However, wether the manager is present or not, everyone needs to resist the urge to comment on another’s ideas by responding with, “elaborate on that,” or “tell me why you think that is the best solution.” This will ensure everyone has a clear understanding of what another individual is suggesting, and/or that all ideas are clearly thought through. Asking for clarity or for someone to elaborate also makes the individuals feel heard and that their opinion matters.
Successful leaders understand that input from the team is vital, and tapping into the collective wisdom of the team makes every team member stronger as individuals and collectively as a unit. This blueprint provides a means of developing mutual trust and respect among team members. It is not delegating and disappearing, but ensuring everyone is involved. Leaders ultimately make the call, but going through this process where everyone has an opportunity to provide input and feel heard, have a chance to ask questions, and talk through options and alternatives, most of the time leads to the team reaching the same conclusion at the same time…Then we can move on to the next blueprint.