One thing I often hear from my clients is that they feel like their management team will just go with their ideas by default. Do you feel like your team is unwilling to challenge your ideas? To avoid this, you may be purposefully speaking last to ensure your team brings their ideas first.
Co-creative leadership is a way to grow and develop a new way to lead. It can help you learn how to be a voice among many in the conversation. This is actually the first skill that I teach my clients out of the five key skills associated with co-creative leaders.
In this article, I will explore the three-step process to encourage your teams to be open to challenging your ideas and engaging in healthy debates and conversations.
You want your team to think critically about the ideas you bring, and not just go along with whatever you say. You know that practicing this with your team is one of the key steps of your team communication. So how do you get started? You need to actually make that invitation.
Start by giving your team the context around your ask. Tell them what you are trying to do and why. It could look something like this: "I have noticed that when I bring ideas to the team, I feel that you are not challenging them enough. So I want to practice this with you as a management team."
What you can do after that is invite them to a one-hour meeting where you will select one topic and talk about it for 20 minutes. The topic could be anything: thinking of a new business solution, changing your workflow, etc.
Take a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to remind people what this practice is about. Explain to them that you want to have a back and forth where people are comfortable challenging your ideas. The idea here is to create a safe space for this to take place.
In that first 20 minutes of discussion, the goal for you is to see what happens. As a leader, this is an opportunity for you to become aware of how your leadership game may be affecting the problem. Try to notice how much talking space you are taking up versus your team.
Here are a few key things to keep in mind to encourage a two-way dialogue where people can share their ideas and opinions:
1. Don't hog the speaking time. Make sure other people have the space to speak. Let silences happen if they come up.
2. Read the room. Observe people's body language and their nonverbal cues. How does it look when people are uncomfortable challenging an idea? Notice when they look like they are holding back from saying something. Take that opportunity to ask them if they have something to contribute.
3. Notice how you are reacting. How does it feel for you to be challenged? Does it make you uncomfortable? This is something you can open up to in front of your team. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and see what happens.
At the end of the 20 minutes, take some time to talk about the experience as a group. Did it feel like how the team normally interacts? If it was different, does the team like this new way of doing things? What would it take to do more of this and have it feel OK?
When you are debriefing, ask uncomfortable questions about how your people felt during the practice. What did they notice during the practice time? How did they feel when they were challenging you? Nervous, fearful they were going to get shut down, comfortable?
Also talk about the challenges and the questions people used to challenge you. Were they good questions? Was it a useful way of challenging your idea? What did it create for the group when they said that?
You should also talk about it if it did not go well. Let's say that nothing happens. No one dares say anything to challenge you. Ask them: why did this happen? Why did no one challenge? What would it take for people to speak out?
This is where some uncomfortable silences may happen. Make sure to ride them out so people have time to express themselves. If people are naming their reasons, how can you address them as a group? When you find the why, you can come up with strategies to resolve them. Then you can try those strategies in another meeting.
The danger if you are not creating these spaces to practice is that your organization is being deprived of the great ideas that come up when ideas collide. The other thing is that when everyone agrees with you, it becomes an echo chamber. What happens then is there are no new ideas and no innovation.
Acknowledge how you may be contributing to this. As a leader, it can be easy to become isolated at the top. You may not even be aware of it. When you notice you are shutting someone down or you are not listening to what people are saying, take a moment to apologize and take accountability.
Building on the ideas of others is a skill you can practice as a team. Encourage people to contribute more, actively listen to them and ask open questions. When people get interrupted by others, make sure they have the opportunity to speak their mind. By inviting your team to do this three-step process together, you will be on your way to a high performing team!
How could you use this process to create valuable discussions with your team? What topic will you approach first?