Friday, December 23, 2011

Free to be crazy

I’ve been thinking about why I am comfortable throwing out crazy ideas to my team. I don’t think it is solely my lack of concern about appearing foolish (although there is an element of that).

I’ve repeatedly told my team – everyone, not just managers – that one of their most important jobs is to keep me from making bad decisions. I need to know that I am going to get honest feedback from everyone. This gives me freedom to come up with crazy ideas without fear they will be accepted simply because they came from me.

How do you get the team to a point where everyone believes they can safely share feedback with you?
  • Reinforce the need to know the truth from your staff. Encourage people to challenge you. They may not do this initially. After all, you are the boss.
  • When you propose an idea, actively solicit input in public settings: “What do you think?” “Is there something I am missing?” “What would you do?” It will take time. If you keep asking, people will start to use their voice.
  • Once people find their voice, listen. The ensuing dialogue is the reinforcement needed to move your team into a positive feedback cycle. Use this time to explore your idea, tear it apart, defend it (without being defensive), and find viable alternatives.
I have found that most of the time there are only a few outcomes (in descending order of occurrence):
  • I realize I am crazy and I’m grateful that we didn’t act on my idea.
  • A kernel of goodness is contained in my idea and the interaction results in a much better idea.
  • I actually had a pretty good idea after all.
Remember, you aren’t trying to be right. You are trying to get to the best decision for the situation. Your job isn’t to be right – it is to make sure the right decisions are made by the team.

One last consideration. If you never accept the feedback, then you have two problems. Number one, your team will stop offering it. And two, you aren’t really interested in hearing it – which is why number one happens.

So go out and be crazy. Something good is sure to happen.

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