There are times when it can be good for teams to have conversations that may be uncomfortable or challenging. If a team is working through a difficult project or a new organizational structure, some team members may have fears or concerns. Team members may be concerned about workload, difficult assignments, project risks, or communication issues that can increase stress and reduce the likelihood they will share ideas. In these situations, a discussion can be helpful and even healthy.
It can be damaging to morale if team members feel they have to bury their feelings and not be heard. Moreover, if a team member has information that is critical to the team’s success, there needs to be an environment that supports sharing.
There are times when teams need to have these challenging conversations. Additionally, team conflict can be a good thing. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman published the developmental sequences of groups: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.
Conflict and discussion is a normal part of team formation. It is also an important part of problem-solving. Coming up with creative and innovative approaches involves team members sharing different ideas. These will inevitably include ideas that not everyone agrees with. However, that is part of the creative process. To get to the best answer, you need to have an environment where people can share many potential answers.
In order to create a culture where team members are willing to open up and share ideas or concerns (depending on the situation), you need to cultivate that environment carefully.
These five guidelines can contribute to healthy team communication, even when the conversation might be difficult.
Rule #1: Respect one another.
It is okay to disagree with a team member. Often different viewpoints or perspectives can lead to the best outcomes. However, whether the discussion is about a technical design, a new process, or who will pick up a new assignment, different opinions need to be shared respectfully. This includes not only the words used but also the tone of voice and body language used.
Rule #2: Give everyone a chance to speak and share their opinions.
If one person dominates the conversation, remind them to let others speak. If you are facilitating the discussion, ask others to share their thoughts and opinions, too. The alternative is that some team members don’t share during the meeting, and then have post-meeting discussions about how unhappy they are with the outcome. The best outcome happens when everyone has input.
Rule #3: Ask questions.
If the conversation is about a change that will affect the team in a significant way, it may be important to get the teams input. You will likely want to know what concerns or information they have about big changes.
If the team is asked to meet a tough deadline, and everyone looks on silently with an expression of dread, you need to ask questions. Ask what concerns the team has, or what risks are at play. Get input to be better informed so that decisions can be made. Get people to speak up knowing they won’t be reprimanded for speaking up. You will have a better chance at success if you have the whole picture of the situation, and this may include information that the team has insight into that you don’t yet know.
Rule #4: Summarize your understanding.
Once team members share information, make sure you have understood them by summarizing back what they said. This lets them know that you heard them and ensures you understood them correctly.
Rule #5: Expect and allow disagreement.
Disagreement among team members can result in a much broader understanding of the challenges you may be facing. Getting all perspectives helps the team be more prepared for taking on challenges. Additionally, if all perspectives are shared, the team can look at each more carefully and develop better plans.
Disagreeing with someone does not mean you don’t respect them. It can mean you are engaged in the discussion and working collaboratively toward better solutions.
It can be valuable to have difficult team conversations that allow everyone to have their voice heard.
It is important for these conversations to be respectful to all participants to ensure that everyone continues to want to speak up.
Collaboration and problem-solving can include healthy debates and challenge other’s ideas.
Collaboration can also lead to some wonderful outcomes when done respectfully.
Leigh Espy, PMP, SPC, CSM, is the author of “Bad Meetings Happen to Good People: How to Run Meetings That Are Effective, Focused, and Produce Results.” She has over 15 years of project management experience with a primary focus on IT project management and has led multimillion dollar international projects and corporate strategy initiatives. Leigh also coaches and mentors project managers and those making a move to a project management career. You can find out more about Leigh at ProjectBliss and LeighEspy.com. Leigh writes about communication and project methodologies.