Leaders may get the feeling that they are carrying the world on their only human shoulders. That all decisions, ideas, and strategies should rest in their box of responsibilities. Technically, people around you may believe that you should possess the most knowledge, know the answers to every question and always have a contingency plan in place.
How unrealistic is this?
Admitting that you are only human and can only know, learn and do so much as one individual person, creates the mind shift that you simply cannot and should not be doing all of those things on your own as a leader. With that said, collective decision making is a concept that alleviates leaders’ responsibilities while simultaneously creating a satisfied and psychologically safe workspace for your team.
Does this sound familiar: The board makes the decision. The decision gets traditionally transported from the board and filtered into the rest of the company. Nothing happens with the information and employees feel disengaged. This is the dark pit you enter when you do not involve employees in the process. When you help your team co-create solutions and they have the opportunity to treat it like their own idea you achieve execution and satisfaction.
If you want unhappy and disengaged employees surprise them with a decision you made solely on your own.
Ideas are not always meant to be popular, but they are meant to be shared. When you allow your team to express their opinions you create a domino effect. One idea is shared, and then another one and another one until the best idea prevails. People are more inclined to be heard more than their idea being physically implemented. The feeling of being recognised and heard is a priceless gift you can give to your team that only requires you to listen and expand on.
It however is deeper and more difficult to put into practice. This can be a tiring process. A process that some may describe as infuriating and frustrating. Many might think that involving employees in decision making is time consuming and impossible due to each individuals unique and special ideas that need to be meshed into one solid idea. When you allow your mind to frame collective decision making in this manner you enter into a spiral of individualistic, one-mindedness decision making. This spiral is windy, curved, and difficult to navigate on your own, but becomes easier with the brightness and collaboration of others.
Jim Whitehurst, the president and CEO of Red Hat, explains the process he took when it came to his attention that the company’s mission statement did not fully depict what they do at Red Hat. He decided to create an open-ended form of communication where all associates had the opportunity to critique, criticise, offer suggestions, and co-create the new company mission. Not only did this take a long time but it created a culture where each employee could recite the mission statement off by heart because they were heard. They physically left their handprint on the mission statement. This is the type of environment you want to create for your team. This experiment was a resounding success and elicited happy employees who resonated with this mission statement.
Why would you not make a decision this way?
It is as simple as letting your team be involved in the final decision of that important project you have all been tirelessly working on. This involvement breeds trust, and trust births satisfaction and psychological safety.
Simple things like asking your team “what do you think?” or “how can we make this idea better?” Not only does this make your team feel seen and heard but it also paves the sturdiest and inviting path to creativity and new ideas. Leaders often have the birds eye view of what is happening. The further and further you get from the ground the more miniscule and unclear problems look. Remember, your team works on the ground, they see the details and have the ability to name every problem and success – isn’t proximity wonderful? Trust their proximity and closeness to the things that are not close to you. Their point of view might just be the thing needed to produce the most cost effective, biggest, and boldest solution to the problem you have been trying to solve.
Valuing and acknowledging your team’s opinions and ideas is always a good thing
Think back to a time when you genuinely felt like your ideas or your expertise were not acknowledged or skimmed past in the boardroom. If you said that this didn’t bother you, you would be lying. No one wants to feel like they do not exist no matter how introverted and individualistic they may be.
Leaders, if you are more concerned with and in awe of the sound of your own voice, this might be a tough pill to swallow.
Leaders that listen, and really listen, flip that recognition switch from off to on in their team’s minds. When you feel heard, you feel valued. When you feel valued you are more likely to be expressive of your ideas and magical thought patterns. And when you express your thoughts and get asked questions by your leader you feel valued again. It’s almost a circle that goes on and on – a cycle of constant care and acknowledgement.
What are you doing that makes your team feel heard and valued?
Organisations are always on the go. They are trying to find the best solution, the best ideas, the best process, and systems and then they need their people to voice their ideas. Organisations are hell bent on instilling environments that allow for individuals to speak up and voice their opinions.
Underlying all of this belongs a misleading assumption that if your people speak up, they have an idea and if they are silent, they do not. Believing this assumption means that you are inclined to think that because you have encouraged your team to speak up that no one will remain silent if they hold an important idea. This seems reasonable to think right?
We are told that silence in itself is an answer. We are well aware of the individuals in our team that potentially speak the most and we are well aware of the individuals that tend to be timid and quiet. What if I had to tell you that research suggests the complete opposite. Empirical research conducted on multiple individuals found the following: the extent to which an individual speaks up with a constructive idea or solution (voice) is independent from the extent to which or the frequency of intentionally withholding ideas or solutions (silence). Let us break this down. Just because someone is speaking up and voicing their ideas does not mean that they are going to voice their concerns to the same degree. Several studies displayed individuals that voluntarily and openly discussed ways to help their team still internally silenced the fears that they had.
Why then are individuals more prone to voicing and offering help than openly discussing the potential fears they have lurking below the surface?
Subsequently, further research was conducted to answer this question. Individuals tend to be motivated to speak up if they inherently believe that their contribution will have an impact on the organisation. Not only that, but if they will be rewarded for that contribution. Individuals tend to remain silent or fail to signal an issue or idea to the boss is dependent on the consequences of doing so- all the negative consequences such as embarrassment or potentially getting fired.
Does this remind you of the good old days? In school you were more than likely to answer a question when you had, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the right answer. How shy and reluctant did you become when you knew you did not know the right answer because you feared embarrassment – the consequence of having the wrong answer?
It is more than just creating that psychologically safe environment and asking your team to share their ideas – it is much deeper than that.
We now know that we need to be aware of voice and of silence. But how do we enhance this awareness and use this knowledge so that you do not fall behind?
The first thing you do is observe. Observe how your team interacts when ideas are communicated or when issues arise. Take it that step further and ask your team what makes them stay quiet or voice their opinion in specific situations. This will give you insight into how your team prefers to handle specific situations they find themselves in.
Now it is about managing voice and silence within your team. Voice management focuses on enhancing your teams perceived impact on the situation, the idea that if they speak up it is going to make a difference. Silence management focuses on enhancing psychological safety within the team, creating that space where sensitive issues can be summoned and discussed.
Voice Management – The three C’s:
Consult: Some time ahead of meetings, make it known and invite your team to come with ideas, suggestions, and areas of concern. This simple act of asking gives your team the feeling that you care and that they want you to take action.
Consider: If you have asked your team to come prepared with ideas but then end up ignoring them, why did you ask them for their input in the first place? It is more about creating a platform for individuals to express their opinions and ideas. Sometimes just the act of acknowledgment is good enough. Do you say things like “I hear what you are saying”, or “thank you for sharing your ideas”?
Communicate: Let people know what happened with their ideas. Do not just let your team share their ideas to create a downpour of ideas and then let the idea sit there in a draught. This type of communication can also be made into a routine communication process which is a great way to keep you as a leader accountable for providing this necessary feedback.
Monitor: You and your team should be open to any ideas or problems that arise. Do not give off the vibe that you disagree with their ideas by shutting them down and giving off non-verbal ques that you might not like the idea.
Protect: Have you ever shared an idea and then been called out on it because it went wrong? You need to protect individuals from suffering if they made a wonderful suggestion, the team acted on it and the individual who made the suggestion gets punished for it.
Ritualise: Certain places and process can either reinforce or demolish psychological safety. Small changes such as hosting meetings in a different space outside of the office can signal to your team that it is time to talk about issues the team does not usually bring up.
Frame and reframe: The way you frame questions that you ask your team can signal to them that it is a safe space to speak openly and candidly. Strategically using premortems (imagining that a project has failed) will allow your team to think about the situation as if it has happened which will potentially lead to individuals divulging any worries or concerns about the project. Another effective tool to use is to change the way you have framed a question. Instead of saying “what could we do?” rather say “what should we do?”.
Collective decision making and showing your team that you value what goes on in their head is no easy task, but it is entirely necessary. Do not think about all the wonderful things this shift will bring but bear in mind the unsatisfied and unproductive team you will leave behind if you do not.
Harvard Business Review. (2020). You Might Not Be Hearing Your Team’s Best Ideas. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/06/you-might-not-be-hearing-your-teams-best-ideas
Forbes. (2018). How To Encourage Employee Involvement In Decision Making. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikekappel/2018/04/04/how-to-encourage-employee-involvement-in-decision-making/#7bc40b7c6561
Harvard Business Review. (2017). Great Leaders Show Genuine Care for Their Teams. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/sponsored/2017/02/great-leaders-show-genuine-care-for-their-teams
Forbes. (2018). Three Ways Great Leaders Show They Care About Their Team. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/dedehenley/2018/07/20/three-ways-great-leaders-show-they-care-about-their-team/#4c3d626446e5
Harvard Business Review. (2016). Decisions Are More Effective When More People Are Involved from the Start. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/03/decisions-are-more-effective-when-more-people-are-involved-from-the-start