Teams cannot commit to a goal, strategy or action without understanding why it’s important to the business and to them, and why it’s the best way forward. Leaders enable this insight to emerge by fostering dialogue with their teams.
To ensure that this dialogue is productive, consider these suggestions:
Seek to learn rather than persuade.
As leader, though your experience may convince you that the best way forward is obvious, resist the impulse to save time by prematurely exerting your influence, sharing your perspective first, and then trying to persuade the team to accept your solution. Choosing this path does little to develop your team’s competencies, to strengthen their ability to think strategically and cross-functionally, or to bond together around a shared commitment. Instead, approach these discussions with the mindset that there’s always something new to learn. Use the dialogue to discover what more should be known so your team can engage in exploring all perspectives as a first step towards commitment.
Sustain the dialogue.
Since the objective of the dialogue is to reveal all possible ways forward so that the best alternative may be determined, seek to extend the discussion by soliciting opinions or asking questions that clarify perspectives, identify areas of agreement, or probe the ‘why’ behind contrasting alternatives. Expect some emotional venting; these expressions often precede reasoned analysis, and can expose the motivations behind a given position. When appropriate, encourage the sharing of applicable stories, particularly those that describe triumphs over challenges, departures from the past, or doing what has never been done. This helps the team empathize with one another around shared fears, needs and ambitions. In his book “Actual Minds, Possible Worlds,” psychologist Jerome Bruner estimates that facts are approximately 22 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story that is personal and relatable. If the dialogue stalls, refocus attention of the leading alternatives and the unresolved differences that are inhibiting progress towards a final choice, including any sense of threat; employ empathy and tolerance to help the team recover their comfort level and return to the discussion.
Pursue the shared outcome.
To move the dialogue towards its conclusion when no commitment has yet been secured, ask each team member to envision and describe a possible shared outcome for the issue, and what is needed to achieve their vision. Discuss any differences in the described outcomes, and then propose a shared outcome. Next, ask each team member to suggest actions necessary to move from their position towards the shared outcome. More commonalities will emerge, enabling each person to sequentially resolve the few final obstacles blocking commitment to the shared outcome.
What process do you use to secure commitment from your team?