How to encourage inclusion and ideation at work

While running BrainGain I liked to have monthly “State of the Union” style meetings to have a comprehensive overview of what we accomplished throughout the month.

These meetings often went well for the most part, but there was a key ingredient missing.

Ideation.

I found that my teammates just didn’t have ideas to contribute. OR, the ideas that they were contributing weren’t all that good. Or something I already thought of.

I was frustrated and felt like no one had the creative mindset to go above and beyond and take something to the next level without my asking for it.

One day I realized I was always the one to start the meetings. My normal routine was to speak and THEN open up the floor to other team members.

So I decided to try something new.  Rather than starting off with a “State of the Union” type of speech summarizing recent updates, I opened the floor to whoever wanted to talk. I gave my team members the chance to speak before I did.

Small flip in dynamic, but huge results. At first no one wanted to talk, but over time people gradually opened up. Gradually felt more comfortable to express themselves without holding back.

This openness gave people the opportunity to discuss the problems that they were facing. The challenges that they dealt with throughout the week, and what ideas they had to solve them.

Ideas started to flow. Teammates discussed common problems and suggested solutions. They felt like THEY were the ones coming up with ideas, rather than me shoving one down their throat.

Similarly I started to use this method when evaluating decisions. If I had an idea that I was leaning towards, I wouldn’t mention it. Instead, I would discuss the problem and open up the floor to solutions.

9 times out of 10 the idea I had in my head was suggested by another teammate. Then we would vote on things as a team. People began to feel proud of their contributions.

Technically we weren’t coming up with any new ideas, but the same ideas were being met with enthusiasm rather than resistance. Ownership rather than obligation.

Over time people started coming up with things I hadn’t thought of. Added levels to my thinking that I would have otherwise ignored. Collaborative ideation was blossoming into something beautiful.

We felt like they were OUR decisions, instead of MY decisions.

There’s a big difference between “I want to decide between A and B, what do you think?”, vs. “What would you do to solve problem x?”

Most of the time the solution you have in your mind is one that they will suggest. If they don’t, they are giving you an alternative perspective that you can argue out.

If you do this on a team-wide level, you can create a culture of inclusiveness. Where people feel that they can truly contribute and make a difference instead of being told what to do and following orders.

People contributed solutions and ideas rather than giving me feedback on what I wanted to decide. Instead of people arguing against my points, they were contributing their own ideas in the form of solutions for us to discuss.

On a psychological level this makes people feel included in the decision making progress. It makes them feel like ideas were their contributions when implemented. They take pride in seeing their effect on the company. Even if it wasn’t a unique idea that I had never thought of, I would give them credit anyway.

Lesson Learned – When managing a team, ask people for their ideas instead of telling them what you plan to decide. If you have made a decision already, don’t tell people, instead ask them what they think, and then wait for them to propose your intended solution.

 


Also published on Medium.

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