When the same issue comes up three times in completely different contexts in one week, I know it’s time to write a post. This week, it’s the implicit contract teammates have with one another that no one will criticize, or even challenge, one another, especially when the boss is present. It’s time to change the rules on this one, but it’s going to take a little coaxing.
Take one of the teams I encountered as an example. It was an executive team doing a talent calibration meeting. They were discussing the performance ratings of the layer below and coming to agreement on how people should be rated and rewarded. Unfortunately, no one was willing to disagree with the evaluations put forth by each manager. Essentially, the deal was “if you don’t challenge my ratings, I won’t challenge yours.” On the surface, that made for an agreeable discussion. I’m quite confident that the inner dialogue was less harmonious.
Ideas that go unchallenged enter and leave the meeting exactly the same. No one exposes fundamental risks in the plan. No one adds opposing perspectives. No one contemplates alternate scenarios. No one even fine tunes the language to get greater clarity. Ideas that come in and leave in the same form should not have been put on the agenda.
So if we can all agree that a little questioning, validating, and stress-testing goes a long way, how can we convince people to try it? With simple, polite, and constructive ways to contribute.
Try one of the following techniques in your next discussion.
Test the facts
Many, many opinions find their way into decision making disguised as facts. If a teammate comes to a conclusion that you’re not sure is based on a solid foundation, ask for more transparency on the data. “You’re proposing that we roll this program out to our high-end customers first based on the idea that they are more digitally savvy than other segments. What are you basing that on?”
Add a different perspective
It’s easy to come up with a great plan if you only need to take one stakeholder into account. It’s common to see one-sided plans that neglect important perspectives. When that happens, bring the voice of the omitted stakeholder into the conversation. “I agree completely that this program is going to be a winner for our customers. How do you think it’s going to land with our operations team?”
Throw in a contingency
You might absolutely love the plan someone’s presenting assuming that the situation plays out in a certain way. If there are other scenarios that would alter the effectiveness of the plan, it’s your responsibility to point them out. “I agree that’s the way to go because I agree that we’re going to get our project to market first. How would the launch plan change if the competition beat us to market?”
Help get clarity
Your teammate’s ideas might be good, but the words might be open to misinterpretation. Test their language to ensure that everyone is thinking the same thing. Tightening up the language helps ensure that ideas get implemented as intended. “So far I’m on board. I just want to make sure I’m interpreting this correctly. Can you go over who you’re including when you talk about this program going to high performers?”
I’ve quoted J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter wisdom on the blog before. In this case, it’s a quote from Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that resonates for me. At the end of the first book, Dumbledore awards ten points in the House Cup to the timid and somewhat awkward Neville Longbottom, who had the guts to stand up to his popular friends. The headmaster tells him “it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
Having the courage to disagree openly with your teammates is essential to building a high performing team. When a teammate brings something to the table, don’t just ignore your concerns. Politely, nicely, calmly add value by contributing an alternate perspective. Over time, your team will create a culture of collaboration that will lead to better decisions, less drama, and ultimately, greater trust among you.