What goes through your mind when you’re adding people to a meeting invite? Whom are you including? Whom are you excluding?—and why?
The truth is, instinct often leads us to avoid conflict and seek out those who think alike. But keep in mind: When teams fail, it’s usually not because they don’t have great ideas. It’s because they aren’t including the people who have them.
As a designer, you may find yourself struggling to understand the limitations of a technology stack. As an engineer, you may find yourself struggling to identify the prevailing values of your client’s organizational culture. But if you fail to lean on each others’ expertise, you both fail to grow.
At minimum, critical team conversations should include representatives from every discipline affected. It would be unwise for engineering to make timeline decision without engaging offering management in a conversation, or for product designers to make brand decisions without consulting the marketing team.
This kind of radical collaboration requires a foundation of trust, respect, and shared ownership across the team.
Take advantage of conflict
Consider the last time someone disagreed with you.
Did you listen to understand their argument, or did you listen to poke holes in it? Did you explore the underlying reasons behind their point of view, or did you seek reinforcement from others who shared yours?
Diversity invites conflict—and conflict is a wellspring of creativity. Harnessing this creativity requires us to listen to understand, not just argue with, with those who may disagree. When you’re listening to understand, you uncover brand-new ideas together and contribute to a more open and collaborative culture.
We have a saying: “Empathy: first with each other, then with our users.” The next time someone disagrees with you, don’t jump straight to why they’re wrong. Try saying: “Help me understand.” It takes courage to admit we don’t know everything, but it’s essential to improving our team’s collective outcome.
Being empowered to act means your stakeholders have entrusted you with a shared responsibility for your team’s collective success. While this doesn’t mean you can ignore their counsel and direction, it does mean that your team is expected to take the initiative to solve problems and deliver your assigned outcomes on your own.
This responsibility can be uncomfortable at first. But when your team rises to the occasion, you deliver better outcomes faster, build trusting relationships with stakeholders, and grow your skills as a leader.