3 Ways to foster a ‘speak up’​ team environment

“Dear Hunter, I have a crush on you. I think your so hansem. I want to mari you”. My 6-year-old daughter Kiara wrote these words in her ‘best’ handwriting to a boy at school this week. Oh, the excitement. I had to smile. I can’t help admiring her confidence in wanting to tell this boy how she felt.

When did you last do that? I mean, being vulnerable enough to share your real thoughts and feelings? Why does doing this come with so much risk in so many workplaces?

Do you work in an environment where you can speak freely without fear of judgement in being wrong or shutdown? Where diverse thinking is embraced? Where positive/constructive conflict is encouraged and managed? Or do you work in an environment where it’s safer to stay quiet and go with the flow?

People will only speak up when it’s safe to do so.

At the base of safety is trust and respect where everyone feels included and valued. This is what practicing diversity means. It goes, beyond gender, cultural ethnicity, and sexual orientation for example, to embrace and leverage the thinking diversity that sits across every possible human grouping.

Embracing diverse thinking ACKNOWLEDGES the difference in the thinking rather than JUDGES the difference as being good/bad or right/wrong.

Within ‘different’ thinking lies greater nuance, perspective, and context that can challenge outdated thinking, the status quo, and promote improvement and innovation. 

Your leadership effectiveness lies in your thinking capacity.

The degree to which you can influence others is the degree to which you allow your thinking to be influenced.

So how do we create safe inclusive environments that champion different thinking?

Here are 3 ways you can lead by example:

1. Build self-awareness

Manage your ego (and call out others on theirs). Your need to want to be right (which is making it about you) will come at the expense of how others experience your leadership. Don’t let your thinking preferences and style get in the way of how you listen, acknowledge, and incorporate others’ thinking into your own. Focus on how you can connect meaningfully with others and take the lead (which is making it about others) to move everyone forward together.

2. Be mindful of your language

Language is powerful tool. Be mindful of how often you say “I”. Also consider the reply “I disagree”– which is a judgement frame. Instead, state your intention of putting forward a different perspective or opinion and let people know the basis/purpose (the frame) through which you’re sharing it. Intentions are important in low-trust environments.

3. Make the benchmarks clear and non-negotiable

I’ve been working with a client this week who is actively creating psychological safety across their business. One of the initiatives they’ve come up with is having a laminated one pager in meeting rooms to set out the expectations by which meetings will be conducted, for example, being present, listening actively, not speaking over someone, and ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak. When the expectations are simple, clear and non-negotiable, new behavioural norms can be established quickly, especially when people are held accountable.

Bringing it all together

The untapped value in your team lies in your ability to leverage the thinking diversity within it to come up with new ideas, solutions and outcomes. Doing this means making it safe for everyone to speak up and share their thinking.

How can you tap into the value in your team? What is the example you’re going to set? How can you build trust and connected relationships?

P.S – Hunter’s affections are unrequited at this point, providing another opportunity for my daughter to keep learning resilience!


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