How to Engage Team Members for Full Participation
When some members of the team dominate conversations and some members of the team clam up, the team loses out. But when you engage team members -- ALL team members -- for full participation, the team is strengthened and will be more effective. Giving voice to every member of the team is the key. To engage team members, make it safe and satisfying for them to express their opinions and to ask questions. Remember, some members of the team may feel competitive and try to dominant the conversation. To learn more about how to redirect this team member's energies, refer back to this post. Other team members may feel uncomfortable offering a dissenting opinion or may try to avoid conflict. Here are some tips for drawing these individuals out. There are five surefire techniques for getting full participation. Any member of the team can implement and routinize these techniques to ensure full participation. These techniques may be particularly important when the team is experiencing conflict or working through a complex decision.
1. Engage Team Members by Asking Each Person's Opinion before Decisions Are Made
Ayes and nays won't suffice. Unilateral declarations by a team leader won't either. Both of these approaches position decisions as foregone conclusions. Both reduce the likelihood that someone with a dissenting opinion or lingering doubt will air it. A better approach is to check in with each individual in a way that is both public and sincere. It would sound something like this. "Before we move forward, I want to be sure we aren't missing anything. I want to hear from each and every one of you about this. I'll start with you, Mary. What are you thinking about this plan?" The same sort of question would be posed to every team member, in turn. Listening and asking follow-up questions to truly understand what's offered will help the team make better decisions and to have stronger buy-in.
2. Engage Team Members by Allowing Time for Processing Information
In any group meeting, extroverts have an advantage. They speak first. They speak more often. And they speak more forcefully. Introverts prefer to collect their thoughts and process them internally rather than aloud. They formulate what they want to say before saying it. When a team's extroverts have moved on too quickly, they miss out on the contributions other may be gearing up to make. It's important to slow down and respect the stylistic differences so all team members have an opportunity to speak when they are ready to do so. Before any deep dive into a topic is finished, pause. Allow a few seconds of silence (extroverts will just have to wait!), and invite those who typically aren't first to share what they are thinking.
3. Engage Team Members by Valuing Diverse Opinions
Diverse opinions get squelched when people merely tolerate them. Valuing diverse opinions means showing genuine interest, being willing to explore them, and actively seeking them out. A true appreciation for others' perspectives will yield more input from more people. Since it's not easy to fake interest, work on developing that sincere interest. Stay open and receptive to ideas that challenge your own way of thinking. Exercise humility in acknowledging that your ideas can always be enhanced with others' input. At a minimum, use others' input to test your ideas and to stretch them to new heights.
4. Engage Team Members by Taking Turn Going First
In any conversation, whoever speaks first steers the direction of the dialogue. Others react to what's already been said. That's why it's so important for different team members to open different conversations. Taking turns, as formal as that may seem, is one way to ensure that the same voice isn't anchoring every conversation. For the more introverted members of your team, ask ahead of time for kick-off statements. When the agenda is set, name someone to open the conversation. This enables the preparation time that introverts prefer.
5. Engage Team Members by Expecting Every Member of the Team to Participate
People rise to others' expectations. Be clear, as a team, that you all expect to hear from each other on important topics and decisions. Hold each other accountable to contributing. When someone hasn't weighed in, ask what they're thinking or feeling about the discussion. Strive for full participation. You may notice that some team members struggle to contribute when they know their point of view is different from the majority's. Be sensitive and open to encourage participation in these moments. Often, what's not being said is exactly what needs to be said.