Do you sometimes long for your team members to think for themselves rather than simply go along with all of your ideas? People Director Vee Halliwell explains how to give them the confidence and tools to be more proactive.
Being at the helm of a business can sometimes be a lonely place, especially if you feel like the only one making all of the key decisions. You might also feel like you’re the only one coming up with new ideas or solutions to problems, even though you suspect that others have better ideas but aren’t putting them forward. ‘You risk not having the best ideas if you don’t have an environment where people feel that they have a voice,’ says Vee Halliwell.
Why don’t people challenge?
According to Vee, it’s all about trust. ‘If there’s a low level of trust, people feel less able to put forward ideas,’ she says. ‘If a CEO very enthusiastically lays out a plan, you’d want someone to raise concerns if they have them, but if it feels unsafe, they might not want to take that risk.’
Fear of conflict is another factor. ‘People spend quite a bit of time trying to avoid conflict, because they’re concerned of what that means for their relationship with their manager and any impact on their career,’ Vee adds.
Lead by example
It’s up to the leader to change the culture so that people feel able to raise concerns, and the best way to do this is to model what you want to see. ‘If leaders show their own vulnerability, that they don’t always get it right or have the right answer, this will start to permeate through the group,’ says Vee.
Another thing leaders can do is to show that they value conflict around ideas. ‘If a team is having a discussion which is starting to get a bit uncomfortable, the leader can remind them that what they’re doing is necessary and be supportive of that slight level of disagreement,’ says Vee. ‘Rather than feel they have to jump in and take one point of view, they might want to let things play out and encourage a discussion that might lead to valuable interventions.’
There are times, of course, when the leader must make a final decision either way, but the discussion will help them to understand their colleague’s objections. ‘It’s tempting to shut down confrontation,’ says Vee. ‘But by allowing concerns to be expressed, you can create a much healthier environment.’
Facilitating open discussions
An external facilitator can help thrash out an issue, particularly if trust is lacking within the team. People Puzzles often runs workshops on getting teams to work better together, as well as sessions on Productive Challenge, informed by the much-cited business management author Patrick Lencioni.
However, it can be difficult for an outsider to really get to the bottom of what’s going on, which is why Vee recommends leadership coaching. ‘Coaching helps leaders facilitate challenging discussions in their own style,’ she explains.
Coaching can also help leaders to step back and consider how they are viewed by their peers. ‘There is sometimes a gap between the leader’s perception of themselves and how their colleagues view them,’ says Vee. ‘It’s not uncommon to hear a leader say “I don’t understand why people aren’t challenging me,” but the moment someone challenges them they’re shut down.’
Changing the culture
If you want your team to challenge you more, you need to create an environment where people feel they can take risks without fear of recourse. ‘Where ideas are welcomed, it becomes the norm,’ says Vee. ‘You don’t have to take up every idea that’s suggested, but if every input is valued, that makes a difference.’
If you can create a more open environment, there are tangible benefits. ‘In teams with high levels of trust, people are more open to challenging each other, sharing new ideas and asking for help,’ Vee says. ‘Conflict is seen as a positive thing, ideas can flow very freely without risk for the individual. That tends to make for a more productive team.’
Vee Halliwell, People Director