The prime directive of leadership is to improve outcomes – by challenging the status quo, by refining strategy and inspiring its successful execution, by developing talent and culture, by strengthening the sustainability of the business – all to achieve goals that enable the business to progress.
The leaders’ challenge is to cultivate the ownership and accountability for these initiatives with those they lead, which requires a devoted engagement with their team, and the nurturing of dialogue among its members. Dialogue facilitates positive momentum towards team commitment by providing the opportunity to clarify an initiative’s purpose, and by encouraging the open exchange of opinions, perspectives, and ideas so that the team may identify and commit to the best way forward. Respect and trust grow, enabling the shared commitment and accountability of the team to develop, when every voice has a chance to be heard, and when contrasting positions are fully explored.
Two proven tactics, paired with humility, minimize conflict and promote productive dialogue:
Seek to listen and learn, not persuade
Help the team develop a dialogue mindset that shifts away from “I’m going to persuade you” to “what can I learn by listening closely to each shared perspective?”
To foster the development of this positive dialogue mindset, encourage the team to listen without interruption to each view before asking any clarifying questions. As each team member cites their objective or view, request that each shared perspective includes an explanation of why it is important, and what is needed from the team or organization to act on it.
As their leader, resist the impulse to prematurely exert your influence or debate your view on a pending decision. While doing so may save valuable time, the net outcome is diminished learning, ownership, and accountability within the team. To avoid an inadvertent short circuit of the team dialogue, don’t reveal your position until a sufficient sharing of perspectives has caused a consensus to start emerging.
Sustain the dialogue
Since the purpose of the dialogue is to efficiently explore ideas, resolve differences, and secure team commitment for the final decision or resolution, strive to extend the discussion until the preferred outcome, and the plan to achieve it, are agreed.
Constantly assess the flow of the discussion to determine if it’s progressing, or sliding towards silence or excessive emotion. Ask questions, solicit opinions, or probe deeper into reasonable ideas to ensure that contrasting positions are fully assessed. If the dialogue is fading, then recover momentum by refocusing attention on the key points under discussion, identifying areas of agreement, or seeking to discover the “why” behind the differing opinions.
How might encouraging productive dialogue strengthen your team’s commitment and accountability?