An increasing amount of research explains some patterns that I’ve observed for many years as a team facilitator. Specifically, the teams that generate the most valuable insights in defining their challenges and the best solutions to their problems are observably different in their interactions from teams that spin their wheels or are mediocre on performance and outcomes. Specifically, on the strong teams, ideas flow more freely from all members and more ideas are put on the table as input to any challenge.
The recent research of Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, two business school professors in the UK, analyzed the characteristics most strongly correlated with strong team problem-solving. And they pinpoint two underlying ingredients: Team members’ psychological safety(to express concerns, share differing views, ask questions, admit mistakes, put hierarchy aside, etc. without negative consequences) and cognitive diversity (intentionally assembling people with differing backgrounds, work experiences, thought processes, skills, organizational perspectives and priorities. You can read the full Harvard Business Review April 2018 article here.
Try injecting a bit more psychological safety and cognitive diversity into the teams and meetings you manage. Small steps add up, and you need not be the head honcho to propose them. Some examples are:
- Explicitly invite fresh perspectives to the table and give them the platform to share candid views on a topic (e.g., someone impacted by your team’s work but not on your team)
- Ask junior staff to prepare and present their perspective on an issue as the starting point to a problem-solving discussion — encouraging them to boldly think beyond existing management assumptions
- Declare your meeting up front as hierarchy-neutral, exploratory and safe for unpopular views; then walk that talk, calling out any critical or controlling behavior
- When folks narrow in on a solution very quickly, ask them to generate and compare two more options before making a decision
- Close out a meeting by reaffirming the value of and protection of differing viewpoints and new untested ideas; celebrate the specific bold ideas that prove valuable.
Invent your own ways to create safe spaces for more diverse views and let me know what happens.