Extraordinary Team Blog

3 Ways Leaders Can Encourage Dialogue in Team Members

Posted by Kristin Arnold on May 18, 2016

I just don’t get it.  Team leaders tell me they want more dialogue and discussion among their team members.  And yet, when I watch the team dynamics, I notice the “boss” (aka the team leader) interject their comments wayyyy too early in the process.

shutterstock_277372325Let’s say we are talking about ways to fix the XYZ problem.  Perhaps the “boss” brought up the issue.  Even better, “Sally,” a team member, brings up the issue.  Sally speaks, maybe one or two others weigh in, and then the “boss” weighs in….before everyone has had a chance to comment!

In high performing teams, that comment is considered to be one among many, and doesn’t affect the team dynamic at all.  The team realizes that in the “brainstorming” process, the “boss” is a team member – and may only “pull rank” if the team can’t get to a consensus and they have agreed the fallback decision-making process is that the team leader will decide.

Unfortunately, high performing teams are the exception, and not the rule.

For many teams, when the “boss” weighs in, the team dynamic is thrown out of balance.  You see, many people see the boss as declaring his/her opinion, versus just another team player weighing in.  When the boss speaks, the subliminal thinking is, “Well, if that’s what the boss wants, then let’s go do that.”  It stems from years and years of hierarchical management.  And, quite frankly, it’s easier to just follow orders.

You can quickly see this dynamic in a team exercise I developed called, “The Obey Me Hat.

Easier does not equal better.  The boss is not always right.  Furthermore, the team may comply with the boss, but they may not be committed to the successful implementation of that idea.

What to do?  Leaders, you have three strategies:

  1. Weigh in after everyone has spoken.  Try to summarize what you have heard.  Be thoughtful about re-stating the arguments, so that you send the signal that you have heard what has been said.  If you have something new to say, then add your comments.  Then suggest a path forward.  Are there additional areas that need to be discussed?  More information needed?  Take a straw poll and see how close the team is to agreement.
  2. Clarify your role.  Say to the team, “I want to participate as a team member in this discussion – not as the formal leader.  What I say is only one idea – and I’d like us to share ALL the ideas and work on achieving a consensus.  In the event we can’t get to a consensus in the next [hour], we will still need to make a decision.  So if we can’t get there, then I’ll make the decision based on all we have discussed OR we’ll take a majority vote.”
  3. Be the facilitator.  You can facilitate the process and NOT weigh in at all.  Define a successful outcome (without an implied solution) and then suggest a process to get there.  Facilitate the process to agree on a successful outcome.  (BTW, for those leaders with big egos, this is VERY hard to do – as you must be able to trust the process and trust the people to make this work!)

Pick a strategy, tell your team about which strategy you are going to use, and then stick to your guns!  Don’t switch horses midway – stay the course and you’ll encourage a much more robust dialogue!

Be sure to register for our next webinar: Using Creative Training Techniques to Engage the Audience During a Panel Discussion featuring the master of creative training techniques, Becky Pike Pluth.

Kristin Arnold is a professional meeting facilitator and international speaker who is passionate about helping leaders and their teams think things through, make better decisions and achieve sustainable results. The Extraordinary Team’s approach to building high performance teams combines consulting, coaching, training and process facilitation within the context of working real issues. 

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