When leading a team and a decision is needed, what happens? Is it silence or negotiation and debate?
Let’s assume that you have assembled the right people for the team; you have the subject-matter experts to be able to make the right decisions. But just having the right experts at the table does not guarantee project success. It also takes the right team dynamics and behaviors. How do we judge if we have the right dynamics and behaviors? One way to discover is, when a question is asked, three things can happen:
- Each team member contributes based upon their view of the world
- Some team members are silent
- All team members are silent
The first option is what we want from our team. But what if we have option 2 or 3? What a leader needs to learn is, why are some or all of these team members quiet? Is it because they are unsure or selfish. Let’s think about these three behaviors.
If your team is #3, a leader must diagnose the silence. Do you have subject-matter experts that have no opinions or perspective on a decision? These are the causes of silence:
- The team members don’t trust or believe in their expertise
- The team members don’t have enough self-confidence to speak up
- The team members aren’t engaged enough in the project to care about the outcome
- the team members see their expertise as proprietary and a source of power they are unwilling to share
If your team behaves like #1, this is a functional team that has the potential of being a high performing
If your team looks like #2, it is made up of a group of people from group 3 and group 1.
If you are leading #1, congratulations, your work isn’t over, but you have the beginnings of a successful outcome. You have a self-die ted and self-governed work team that needs you, the leader, to maybe arbitrate, realign, redirect, or re-vision the work.
But what should you do as a leader when faced with a team exhibiting the traits of 2 or 3?
That’s what leaders do, realign misaligned teams. With both teams, 3 and 2, the challenge is similar, but the risk of a successful outcome is higher with three than with 2. With 2, you have a possibility that the team that is actively sharing their expertise will inspire the others to open up. This result may require some active coaching and encouragement from the leader, but you have people demonstrating the desired behaviors to support coaching and motivation.
But a leader must understand the motivation that is causing the “silent” team member to be quiet. Is it because they don’t understand the purpose or outcome of the task? Is it because they don’t understand their role? Is it because they don’t value their expertise? Is it because they don’t trust their knowledge? Is it because, if they shared what they know, they would neutralize their power? Is it because they believe what they know makes them more secure in their job, and if teaching others what they know makes them less valuable and more expendable?
Understanding purpose and outcome and their expertise or role are easier to manage as a leader. They involve stating the purpose and value of the project, establishing the individual’s role and the importance of their contribution, and affirming your trust and reliance on their unique expertise in the successful conclusion of the project. If it is due to the selfish reasons for hoarding knowledge or skill, the leader has an opportunity to create a culture of trust and knowledge sharing. If the person doesn’t align with a team culture of knowledge and expertise sharing, the “hoarder” needs to be redirected to a culture that fits them better.
No team can be high performing and successful unless there is sharing versus hoarding of expertise and knowledge. All top-performing teams know that only through the sharing of knowledge and expertise can success be realized.