Part of the hallmark of a formidable team is the confidence in their ability to come up with innovative ideas. That confidence can either be muffled or built over time. Whatever the outcome, It is up to the team lead.
When the leader of a team is autocratic, deliberately or subconsciously shoots down ideas, what then happens is a team that starts to hold back. Alternatively, when a team is confident that their ideas are welcome, they are encouraged to share them because they know that at the end of the day, the ideas, even the half-formed ones, will be treated and improved upon.
Part of creating a culture of innovation is to communicate to the team the art of having a good fight.
Your team’s ability to have constructive conflicts without falling out can produce better results concerning innovation. And Stanford professor Kathleen M. Eisenhardt’s research on several companies in Silicon Valley lends credence to this in her work “How Management Teams Can Have a Good Fight”.
To remain competitive, grow the business, and disrupt the status quo profitably, you need your team to innovate more. Whether it’s the service, the process, or the people in your team. And constructive disagreement is part of the process. Do not shy away from it. Encourage it.
This is what the “good fight” is all about. I have found these few tips useful from experience.
UNDERLINE SHARED GOALS
One of our clients before they start each meeting reads out core values that bind all functional units together. You can take a cue from that. There is power in repetition. You can also be very specific instead of using words that may appear vague to team members. So instead of accountability as a core value, a newspaper focused on business and investment can spell out accountability as holding the government and private sector accountable.
Apply this to any item in your agenda and members of the team will get a clearer sense of purpose. When things start getting heated, remember to draw everyone’s attention back to the shared goals. And then end the meeting by reiterating how the team made progress toward the common goal.
BECOME THE CATALYST IN SHIFTING THE MINDSET
I have spoken about the power of questions. Having mastered the art of genuinely listening, you must then help your team dream or think big. Even when you have the answers at the tip of your lips, refrain from doing the “giveaway.” Tactically ask questions that will challenge them to take ownership of a situation. Ask open-ended questions like, “How can we….?” Or “ what if…?”
I usually challenge my team to come up with solutions before the next meeting, encouraging them that I will only be available to help if they need me. I then attend, listen in and make the necessary approvals after the debate has produced a consensus. In such meetings, try not to share your opinion; just listen instead and try to expand on people’s ideas.
As a thorough boss, I know this can be very difficult, but unless you are comfortable being the solution almost all of the time, then put your team in the fray and get them thinking big!
EXPLORE SEVERAL POSSIBLE COURSES OF ACTION
These days when being agile is imperative and speedy decisions are required to stay relevant, as a team leader, try not to go with the most readily available options too quickly. Encourage the team to explore as many as possible different approaches to the best options. This is by no means an easy skill to master especially when these days we are operating under constant pressure.
Take for example a successful supermarket without an online presence. When the pandemic hit, the lockdown was introduced, movement was restricted and many customers moved online. The best available option may be to quickly set up a makeshift eCommerce platform. But that can be done too quickly at the expense of service delivery because this is unfamiliar terrain. Outsourcing to an experienced eCommerce platform, taking learnings from the experience while working behind the scenes to develop its own eCommerce platform may just have been a better decision.
REAL-TIME DATA SHOULD TRUMP EMOTIONAL SENTIMENTS
When facilitating your next meeting, ensure debates are centered on current factual data as much as possible. This tends to help the team focus its energy on discussions based on evidence. Even when you’re considering a decision based on instinct, maybe from previous experience or scenario analysis, expressing it too quickly can kill innovative ideas.
BECOME A GOOD LISTENER
What makes TV anchors like Larry King and Christiane Amanpour so good at what they do? Part of it is their interviewing finesse including drawing information by skillful, informed questioning, and by listening. As the team lead, you should actively and genuinely listen to your team. Team members will usually shut down when they feel their voices are not being heard. Striking a balance is very important here.
Debates should not linger for hours during a meeting neither should a select few be able to influence decisions within the room or offline. There is the danger of being perceived as a weak boss who is influenced by the loudest in the room or boldest after the meeting.
A best practice is to protect the “weak” and strive to arrive at decisions by ensuring power, and airtime in meetings is widely spread. Sometimes, from the debate, because you allowed for it to happen, consensus can be reached without you having to make a decision.
MAKE WORK FUN
I have seen how a joke changed the mood of a strategy meeting when things were getting heated. Be spontaneous, apply humor when you can. It has the potential of reducing tension and making people conscious of the fact that after all is said and done, everyone is still in the same team.
If you do not train your team to learn to fight the good fight, you may end up doing the heavy lifting most of the time. And you should do this by remembering to emphasize “the why”, why the team exists in the first place, challenge them to dream and think big.
You should also encourage them to come up with numerous ways to solve the problem, not necessarily the first or easiest way out. Do not just do the talking, learn to listen too, and make real-time facts the focus as against emotional sentiment. While doing all of this, do not forget to bring fun along.
Awesome read. Innovation is truly the hallmark of any true progress. This blessed me. Truly a team lead can either make or mar team. The part that spoke about Repeating the share goal in a more clearer and involving way and not just being vague was the highlight for me.