Silence (In the Conference Room) Is Deadly

(By John Kotter)

If your team truly believes you value their input, they will volunteer it – you won’t have to ask for it. However, this display of initiative will only occur if you genuinely want to lead in an environment where your team feels they have permission to question, challenge, and improve your ideas.

Here’s a common scenario: It’s time for the meeting you scheduled with your team. You confidently present your new idea – a carefully constructed new strategy with every detail considered and accounted for. As you reach the end of your presentation you invite the group to ask questions. Instead of enthusiastic approval, you get silence.

Well, this is awkward. What’s wrong with them? Does this silence signal overwhelming approval, or is your team overcome with apathetic complacency? For the record, the silence is just as uncomfortable for your team as it is for you – maybe more. And, furthermore, the guilty party in this silent exchange is you.

Sure you may have ended your presentation (or monologue) with “Any comments or questions?” or the even more damaging “What do you think?” But while you may truly believe you invited your team to participate in a constructive dialogue, you did not. It is wise to share your idea with the team before charging ahead, but you can be certain that the sound of crickets doesnot indicate a resounding team approval.

Let’s examine your potential missteps:

1. You developed your great idea – alone. If your team is hearing your plan for the first time, they likely had limited or no involvement in its development. In life there are few instances when surprises are appreciated and a “planning session” with the boss is rarely one of them. Not only that, if you’re not involving your team until it’s time to execute, you cheated smart, engaged team members of the work they enjoy most – developing new ideas.

2. You invited your team to a “strategy planning session.” Your team is comprised of smart people. The meeting invitation you sent was entitled “Strategy Planning Session” and it’s a false bill of goods to those ready to get involved when instead you present a carefully crafted defense ofyour plan.

The language you use when you invite your team to engage is important. Therefore, communicate that this dialogue will look and feel like an actual conversation by giving careful thought to the title of the meeting invitation before you hit the send button.

3. You asked the team for feedback. If your team truly believes you value their input, they will volunteer it – you won’t have to ask for it. However, this display of initiative will only occur if you genuinely want to lead in an environment where your team feels they have permission to question, challenge, and improve your ideas. Set the stage for a meaningful dialogue by asking your team to ponder the very same questions you’ve deemed necessary to chart the pathway forward. As pre-work, invite them to jot down their ideas and bring them to share with you and the rest of the team.

The advance prep is a subtle message to the team that you actually value their views. It also significantly reduces the inherent risk in voicing one’s opinion, especially in front of the boss. Challenging the boss – even when respectfully done – is a risky endeavor. As a leader, part of your job is to reduce that risk to enable constructive dialogue.

The “Do-Over”

If your people entered the conference room ready to participate and you took that opportunity away from them, that silence you got at the end of your presentation is evidence that you’ve created an environment of apathy AND complacency – two innovation killers. To tap your talented team for innovative ideas and the willingness to implement the subsequent strategies, get your team involved at the beginning stages of strategy development – really engage them. Do this by inviting them to contribute to a brainstorming session before your strategy has been developed.

Requesting ideas from your team at the onset may feel like you are relinquishing control – and you are. When you do this you share ownership of the idea and make an investment that will pay dividends as you seek broader support. Instead of developing your own idea:

  • Think about how you can best provide context for the strategy discussion.

  • Determine the right questions to ask your team.

  • Provide your team time to visualize their responses.

  • Schedule a meeting where you ask them to share those ideas with you.

A one-person innovation team (you) uses only a subset of the innovation potential of your team. Presenting your fully-baked idea and failing to include your team in the idea development communicates that you’re not interested in their ideas. You’ll get either their rubberstamp approval or their silence, and both responses threaten the successful implementation of your strategy.

Silence does not mean you flawlessly communicated your new strategy – it most likely signals your project’s imminent death.

(Source: Forbes)

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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