Fostering open communication in group settings is not easy. But for a manager, it is a key to success. Replacing traditional top-down meetings into an open collaborative environment will take some effort. Changes to a meeting format or location won’t be enough, this shift involves more complex steps to remove invisible barriers such as how traditional roles are perceived and how they affect team discussions, and how to identify and break down power dynamics already in place to provide a space for more open and natural conversations.

So, how can a team leader navigate this transition and create a safe, welcoming space for its team to discuss bold ideas and perform effectively together?

Here are five ways to foster collaborative team discussions inspired by Monica Ogden in her video entitled “5 Tips for Male Improvisers”:

1 – Talk less, listen more

As a manager, there’s an expectation for you to lead, with a deference to your ideas and comments. Having the floor open to you is considered normal, and expected. Change that assumption. Simply by not speaking you are sending a message to allow open conversation. Frame the problem and the discussion (if needed) and then let things flow.

2 – Physically cede the floor

As a manager, you should understand that you are trying to create a safe space for everyone to use and express openly their opinions. If nothing is happening, you don’t need to jump in straight away, let things evolve. Let the introverts process internally and let them bring out their ideas at their own pace. To enable this further, physically move yourself away from the discussion and don’t occupy a prime location.

3 – Confer status

Once you have let other people take the lead in the discussion, let them also pick up ideas. If members are used to playing ‘supporting’ roles, this is an opportunity to encourage them to take on more responsibility. Acknowledge those ideas publicly and let them take ownership. Do this verbally, to confer the status you have as a respected leader on to others. It’s one of the powerful things you can do to create loyalty and engagement.

4- Recognize your biases

People are going to say things you disagree with immediately.,often on a subconscious level. You are biased to all sorts of ideas. Your attitude towards people in your group will also be biased. It’s a fact of life. You need to try and recognize this bias, and give yourself space to reflect on ideas and opinions shared in the safe space before reacting. Sometimes the ‘bad ideas’ allow everyone to pick apart the concepts and shape new great ideas.

5 – Ask questions

Check in with your team and learn if they feel safe and secure to share divergent opinions in the space you have created. Have you built an environment for discussion that allows a wide variety of people to contribute? It’s useful to check in with individuals to make sure they feel heard and have a chance to speak. If people are monopolizing discussions, be aware of that, and discuss it with them. For those who are silent in the background, find ways to encourage them to share more.

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