Your team is facing a tough problem, and you schedule meeting after meeting to come to a solution. Your sincere attempts to solve this difficult problem dissipate into chaos. The team enters a swirl of diverging points of view. Or even worse, the team shuts down and limits their input. How do you get past these barriers and move everyone closer to an agreed-upon answer? More importantly, how do you get to a resolution without losing team engagement?
If you are leading the team, you may attempt to correct course by limiting the discussion and driving the conversation towards solutions. Limiting the debate may work, especially if you have high influencers and decision-makers on your team. The problem: you lose the engagement of the rest of the team and later encounter resistance as you attempt to execute on the decisions that were made.
Is there a better way to get full participation of the team? How do we get to an agreed upon solution that is inclusive of the diverse perspectives on your team?
My work with teams of subject matter experts and leaders struggling to solve tough problems led me to seek a solution to this challenge. After trying different approaches, I discovered a framework and techniques that improved my meeting outcomes and fostering of team collaboration.
I also found that my former approach to managing meetings may have contributed to the team’s failure to be fully engaged. I have learned that we often fail to inspire our teams to collaborate by falling into comfortable ways of navigating conflict. In this post, I will share the three main reasons we tend to fail to get engagement from everyone on the team and 10 quick tips to help you promote team collaboration.
Sticking to Familiar Opinions
One common pitfall is that we believe we know and understand the problem before we hear a full range of perspectives. Recurrent discussions reiterate the same points. The question we should ask is: What are we missing? Instead of reaffirming points already made, the goal should be getting the full range of diverse perspectives by moving past familiar opinions or our initial thoughts on the problem.
Often the first ideas teams discuss are the ones that are easiest to think about and not necessarily the best ideas. To get the best ideas, you must avoid bringing discussions to a quick closure. Allowing free-flowing discussion and the expression of all points of view on the problem will lead to new insights for everyone. Asking the team to suspend judgment and avoid jumping to a quick solution can force everyone to step back and think more deeply about the problem. Remind yourself that there are no easy solutions to challenging problems. Taking the time to hear (and respect) everyone’s point of view is necessary to come up with the best solution.
Announcing the Decision
Take a scenario when an open discussion leads to confusion and potential conflict. At this point, the leader steps forward and announces a decision to reduce or avoid the emerging conflict. This move is premature as it leads to unintended consequences. Team members may believe that the leader does not want to hear their perspective and cynicism emerges. In the end, the leader loses team engagement rather than creating it.
Avoiding a full range of diverse opinions may also keep the best idea from developing. Moreover, it will create resistance later as the team believes they are being forced to buy into a decision made for them. Leaders and influencers must accept that reaching an agreement may involve some conflict and should be prepared to navigate the conflict in a productive way.
Viewing ‘Misunderstanding’ as a Problem
The truth is that teams do not automatically shift from divergent thinking to a shared understanding of the problem or potential solutions. Reaching an agreement that everyone can proudly represent will take the team talking through their many points of view. In the book “The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making,” the authors call this “the Groan Zone.” This zone can be full of misinterpretations, misunderstandings,and strong disagreement. However, it is an inevitable part of the struggle to get to an insightful, innovative and collaborative agreement.
Failing to embrace this ugly part of the problem-solving process drives leaders to behave in ways that inadvertently create disengagement and frustration for their team. Learning strategies that will help your team navigate this zone can turn the perplexion into confident and eager willingness to solve the problem as a team.
In future posts, I will share more about group decision making and how you can use it to help your teams engage more fully in collaborating to solve their most challenging problems. In the meantime, try these ten quick tips to promote divergent thinking, shared understanding and collaboration:
Ten Tips to Improve Team Engagement and Collaboration
• Encourage your team to ask open-ended questions during discussions.
• Explain the importance of listening thoughtfully to others.
• Avoid criticizing or judging ideas during brainstorming sessions.
• Ask your team to avoid thinking about solutions and focus on understanding the problem.
• Use “yes…and” statements and avoid “either…or” thinking.
• Ask each team member to document their thoughts and share with the team.
• Have subject matter experts formally present their views in a team meeting – use a time limit to support a concise expression of viewpoints.
• Use silent brainstorming techniques to ensure that you capture the opinions of less talkative team members.
• Document and summarize outputs from brainstorming sessions and share with the team – the same day if possible.
• Create a space (electronic or whiteboard) for team members to continue sharing thoughts after the meeting.
What problems have you experienced as you engage teams to problem-solve? How did you navigate your team through any conflict that arose? Let us know below.
Rebecca Mott is a self-proclaimed change agent and continuous improvement leader with over 20 years of utility industry experience leading technical teams to solve problems. She currently coaches leaders and teams to apply Lean Six Sigma methodologies and engage by focusing on the power of “we.