- Ask powerful questions. Superficial questions like, “what do you think?” are not going to yield the most helpful answers. Instead, make the effort to formulate insightful, open-ended questions and then take the time to truly listen to your team’s responses. Be genuinely curious.
- Hold back your opinion. If you begin a meeting or conversation with, “here is what I think…” your opinion will immediately bias the room. Ask remote staff and/or the most junior team members to share first so that you get their untainted perspective.
- Be vulnerable. If you always seem to know the answer and create a persona of perfection, your team members will not share a dissenting opinion. Assuming that leadership has it “all figured out,” teammates may believe that speaking up would be a waste of their time. Instead, openly share with the team when you are uncertain or unsure. Acknowledge when you make a mistake and ask for their help.
- Follow up on rejected ideas. Even if someone shares an idea that is ridiculous or infeasible, ensure you are not preventing ideas from being presented in the future. On the one hand, don’t just ignore the idea. If your team does not think their ideas will be acted upon, they will stop sharing. On the other hand, do not pretend the idea they shared is a good one – you may appear inauthentic to teammates who can easily identify bad ideas. Instead, give your team member the respect they deserve. Genuinely thank them for their input, try to find some portion of the input that was valuable and compliment them for that, and then explain why that idea will not be acted upon in that situation.
- Reward speaking up. When someone does provide constructive critique or raises an important risk, ensure you respond in a way that demonstrates to the rest of the team that you welcome when teammates speak up.
PROCESSES TO ENABLE VOICING UP
- Create space on your calendar. If your schedule is constantly packed, your people may not feel that they have the opportunity to actually share their thoughts with you. If you can’t schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your team, then at least schedule regular “office hours” when your team knows they can steal a few minutes of your time. When teammates do approach you for a meeting, give them your undivided attention.
- Dedicate regular time in team meetings. Many leaders ask their team in the last two minutes of their team meeting, “does anyone want to raise anything else?” No one speaks up because there isn’t enough time for a real discussion. Instead, dedicate time in the middle of your meeting to hear the team’s perspective on challenging issues. Make it a regular part of the agenda and prioritize it every time.
- Assign every team member a ‘Swim Buddy.’ Special Operations military units pair up two new recruits, making them swim buddies who provide each other with support, accountability, and safety. Pair up your team (especially remote teammates with those who work from the office). These pairs can use each other as a sounding board to share their perspectives, encouraging each other to voice up on critical issues.
Hybrid work is not the answer for every organization. The operating model offers distinct benefits and drawbacks that must be thoughtfully weighed out by leaders across industries. For those who see a true competitive advantage in this operating model, they must find a way to be inclusive, creating a team culture where team members, regardless of their location, can voice up in a productive and meaningful way. This is not just a moral imperative but a performance imperative that will enable their team to tackle whatever comes next.
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