Don't be the team that has the right instruments but makes the wrong sounds
On a flight recently, I overheard a group of musicians debriefing a recent concert performance and it made me reflect on team performance from a new angle. As they discussed the set they had performed, each was offering insights into what worked well, what didn’t, and how they could get better results next time. I’m all about having an agile mindset and learning to seek greater outcomes, so it piqued my interest. As each musician shared their perspective, it seemed that they had a similar view of what they’d do next time until the conversation was almost over. The very last person who spoke made an observation that made the rest of the band realize that they had missed something so important in their post-event review, and the band collapsed in laughter because of the absurdity of nearly missing it.
Today, most leaders understand the benefits of corporate diversity, and countless studies have shown the direct ties between diverse views and improved business results. Probably one of the most apparent advantages of having people with different backgrounds, interests, and expertise on your team is the boost in creativity and innovation that happens as a result of all team members making unique contributions to collaborative discussions and problem-solving sessions. And that’s the key; it’s not just about having the right people. Some leaders still struggle to appreciate that diversity does not equal innovation if the power of the diverse thinking isn’t harnessed through inclusive mindsets, behaviors and practices.
We see both diversity and inclusion on continuums rather than binary switches of whether a team, division, or organization is diverse and/or inclusive. We work with clients across both ends of the continuums; teams that are not diverse at all, teams that bring the best diversity to bear, those that are set up well from a diversity point of view but don’t enable the diversity to bring benefits because the culture doesn’t allow or encourage inclusive behaviors.
What we have discovered in more than twenty years of coaching managers and teams in global corporations is that a key reason why many diverse teams don’t reach their full potential is the lack of psychological safety within the team. No matter how creative and innovative each member of the team can be, it’s useless, unless they feel comfortable openly sharing their ideas and thoughts with each other. If I don’t feel safe, there’s no way I would go against the grain and share something that I know would change the outcome for the team.
There are usually a few people on each team who dominate in collaborative engagements and consciously or unconsciously take on the role of validating the ideas of others, which makes the rest of the team less likely to express their thoughts. When most decisions are made from the top down, people stop risking sharing openly because they either feel discouraged or even afraid to contradict their managers, leaders, and peers.
Managers and leaders need to start helping their teams get the greatest return on the powerful asset of diversity by initiating and facilitating inclusive flows of ideas. At Ferrazzi Greenlight, we have developed a whole library of tools and high-return practices that foster the kind of behaviors that encourage collaborative problem solving, candor, and inclusion, all focused on generating business outcomes in a faster, more joyful way.
One of these practices that we call Red Flag Rules, focuses on consciously co-creating a team’s rules of engagement at the outset of every engagement (or when the team composition changes), and re-stating the rules before each problem solving session or collaborative discussion. Unlike most rules at work that focus on process — what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to do it — Red Flag Rules are about relationships and behaviors — how we must act with one another. A good example of a Red Flag Rule is “make sure everyone’s voice is heard,” which means all participants of the engagement agree to be aware of who is and who is not participating, and to take action to balance everyone’s contribution if they notice that some people are dominating the conversation and other people are not speaking up. Little by little, this builds up trust and psychological safety within the team and allows all team members to tap into their diverse backgrounds and openly share their ideas. Moreover, it creates a team where everyone owns the success of each person in the team.
Just like the band on the plane who realized that although they each had a good perspective on how their most recent performance went, there’s always someone out there that could offer new ideas, new thinking, innovative outcomes and results, but to hear these we need to give space and time to include these contrary views. My challenge to you, if you’ll take it, is to create the space for the quiet voices, the different opinions, and the views that may be the least popular but the most rewarding.
Rob Whitfield is the CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a behavior engineering company that provides keynote speaking, coaching, and consulting services to organizations around the world. If you’d like your team to be more agile in mindsets, behaviors, and practices, and to achieve some of the benefits that are well within reach, get in touch and we can explore how you can empower your people to want to aim higher, together. Follow me on LinkedIn, or get in touch to start shifting your results.