If your role involves leading a team of people, have you ever had the feeling that one or more of those people has this kind of attitude?
If you have, you should a) be grateful and b) encourage all your team to have that exact same attitude.
Does that seem a little odd? Surely a harmonious business is a happy business, right? Well maybe but it’s not necessarily a business that’s innovating and growing. Here’s the thing…ideas, innovation and measured risk taking are the lifeblood of a growing business. In turn, the lifeblood of ideas, innovation and measured risk taking is open and fearless communication.
Most people in business I speak to claim to have open communication (their team members may beg to differ, but that’s what most leaders say…). Not too many, when pressed for an honest response, would agree that communication is 100% fearless.
Why is fearlessness among team members specifically important?
To start with, it’s important to note we’re not talking about an environment where people simply say what they want, when they want with no filter. That kind of workplace can be toxic and totally unproductive - trust me, I’ve been there.
As leaders, the environment we ought to be encouraging is one where there’s no fear of communicating one’s own ideas (and views on the ideas of others) openly and in a way that facilitates open debate and discussion.
Why? Because when people are afraid to speak up, that’s when great ideas and opinions go missing in action. Everyone in the team should be encouraged to contribute without fear. That’s a business “non negotiable”.
What are people frightened of?
It’s different things for different people and in different environments. For some, it’s the worry that others will think their idea or opinion sucks (for want of a better term) and there’ll be a commensurate reaction. That’s often the way natural introverts think.
For others it’s a fear their ideas and opinions are a bit outspoken which again may draw an adverse reaction from other team members. These folks probably don’t want to be seen (and potentially treated) as an outsider, so rather than speak up they’ll let things slide.
There’s a whole range of reasons people may be frightened of opening up within the team. As leaders, we need to have the emotional intelligence to be aware there’s an issue, to identify what the cause or causes might be and address those causes with acceptable, inclusive solutions.
And now I’ve mentioned it, what about the leader…?
I’m afraid that often, it’s actually the team leader who is the issue. It can be his or her reaction (conscious or not) to team members’ ideas that can stifle discussion before it even starts. We need to be conscious of how people perceive us and our reactions - what we say and what we do - and be careful to be supportive and encouraging of fearlessness in team communication.
We leaders also need to take a step back and try not to be too controlling or directive in how new ideas evolve. There’s nothing worse than a leader who thinks all the answers sit with them. Giving the team the freedom to explore ideas on their own terms will inevitably lead to better outcomes.
The bottom line?
All the evidence is in. Globally, businesses large and small report team engagement scores are higher when people feel involved and have input to how the business evolves. It’s important for teams to “get” the purpose of the business and be involved at some level in strategic and business planning for example.
It’s been reported that communications are incredibly important in team engagement. If team members feel no fear in being able to express themselves on a range of issues to their peers and leaders, there’ll be a positive impact on engagement scores.
And that’s good for business. It’s good for customer satisfaction, staff turnover and ultimately good for profitability. Next time you feel like your people aren’t afraid they could be sacked, it might just be a positive for you and your business!
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