Your team slowly shuffles into the meeting room. It’s time for the monthly team meeting. There are some difficult items on the agenda this week.
You thought it was going to be a stressful meeting, but it turned out to be quite positive. Nobody had any complaints. A great result, right?
Wrong. When silence is all you hear, this is often a bad thing. When people don’t speak up when you know they should, something is not quite right.
The question you need to ask yourself is, why?
Why Your Team Won’t Speak Up
You need feedback to improve, like everyone else. In my experience, there are several reasons why your team may not be speaking up.
1. Your Team Won’t Speak Up, Because You Don’t Listen
If your team has voiced concerns or ideas in the past and they haven’t been acknowledged, there is a good chance they have given up, and won’t keep trying.
If their concerns are ignored and nothing is ever done to address them, it’s natural for people to stop trying.
They know if they speak up or remain silent, the result is the same.
2. Your Team Won’t Speak Their Mind, Because They Have Stopped Caring
I’ve seen this situation in many teams. Often a leader will try to introduce a new process or technology and the team will simply shrug.
A usual response is “We’ve tried this before and it didn’t work”.
If this is the case, your team has given up trying to improve. They no longer try because they feel as if they are stuck in the status quo, where nothing ever changes.
3. Your Team Won’t Speak Up, Because They Are Scared
Some teams don’t speak up because they fear the reaction from their boss. They don’t want to be seen to rock the boat, so they say nothing.
Team members who fear losing their jobs don’t do their best work, and they certainly won’t speak up with an honest opinion. While it might feel nice to have team members that don’t complain to you, you should remember that fear based leadership doesn’t work.
For more about fear-based leadership, read this article: The Unintended Consequences of Leading By Fear.
4. Your Team Won’t Speak Their Mind, Because the Team Culture Resists Change
This is the way we’ve always done it.
This is just how it works here.
We’ve tried this before and it didn’t work.
This is just the way this place is.
When your team members start using statements like this, you could be in trouble. A collective mindset of helplessness has developed, and these phrases only reinforce it.
What soon happens is people stop suggesting improvement or change, because the default attitude is that it doesn’t work.
Why You Need Your Team to Speak Up
Leading a team that can’t express honest opinions or new ideas is dangerous. Here are some good reasons why you should try to create conditions to help them speak up more easily.
1. You Need Your Team to Speak Up to Tell You When You’re Wrong
Come up with a new way to run your team? New team structure? Introducing a new technology you read about in a magazine?
That’s great! But your team needs to speak up to let you know when you’re out of your mind. Silence from your team may only encourage you because it seems as if they have no objections.
How you can help your team speak up: Encourage feedback on your ideas. Let them tell you where you’re wrong, and work with them to shape your ideas into something that will work. If you involve them, they’re more likely to get on board.
2. You Need Your Team to Come Forward With Good Ideas
Here at Thoughtful Leader, it’s not a dictatorship. Good ideas can come from anywhere and a leader would be foolish to ignore them just because they didn’t come up with it.
People in your team will have different ideas and experience than you do. Use it to your advantage. Often it’s best if you implement an idea that comes from within your team.
When this happens, it’s likely that your team members are already on board, meaning you’ll be able to implement any changes much more easily.
How you can help your team speak up: Give credit to your team when they have a good idea, and ask for their input. If they do have a suggestion that you can’t implement, let them know why.
3. You Need Your Team to Keep You Informed
You can’t be everywhere all the time, and you don’t have the same relationships as your team. To remain well connected in your workplace, it can help when your team members tell you about issues or events that may affect the team. Ignorance is not bliss.
This could be news such as what other teams are doing to solve a problem, or new ways of working that other people are trying. It could be that there is a financial reporting change that may affect your team and you don’t know about it yet.
You may think you’re “in the know”, but you’d be surprised at what conversations happen below the leadership level which may have a dramatic effect on your team.
How you can help your team speak up: Talk to your team members frequently, as well as team members in other teams. Listen to what they have to say and show interest. It’s not only your leadership network that has valuable information to share.
Some leaders fly blind, using only their own ideas and networks as sources of information. You need to create an environment where your team can speak up and you can harness their good ideas and information.
How do you encourage your team to speak up? Leave a comment below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.