How Do You Get Teams To Think?

When times are difficult and perhaps they have been so for years, sadly the first action taken is for people to become defensive about their contributions. They find solace assigning blame to others. Finger pointing at other teams, other departments, and their supervisor but never how they can be contributors. That’s when leaders and managers have to urgently get team members to focus on what they can do to see things differently. Cautiously, guide them to do things in a different way so that it seems as though the decision is their own.

Doing so is particularly difficult to achieve until team members reach a level of trust where they are willing to forsake individual agendas but feel safe in providing their opinions on accomplishing the objectives of the team. In my work as a consultant, I see individuals believing they have a responsibility to “play nicely” rather than vocalize their ideas. What appears to be a good idea provided by a team may well have been a great idea if groupthink had been avoided. Moreover, you may discover hidden leaders who now are brave enough to sparkle.

One of my favorite experiences is to have an intense conversation with someone whose thinking I am diametrically opposed to. We stimulate each other with an intellectual conversation that may lead to a little tweaking of our own premise. However, while we likely will not have changed any mines we agree to do so again tomorrow because great conversation should move us to question. Helping us to see things differently. The point is in doing so we don’t “unfriend” them. We develop a respect to agree or disagree.

We learn:

  • We don’t assess blame
  • We share ownership of the problem
  • We take responsibility
  • We began to speak with each other respectfully. Not seeing an opposition to an idea as a denigration of anyone.
  • We can disagree vociferously while still playing nice
  • Recognize we have to make sacrifices to move the team to a new level where each voice is more than heard.
  • Raise the expectation to avoid groupthink
  • Strongly encourage robust conversations and the ability to defend them.

While getting teams to think is a leadership challenge, the above approach can set the stage for real progress.


The Woods Kovalova Group
The Woods Kovalova Group
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  1. Good article.
    I find it helpful to use De Bono’s Six Hats, especially if the trust in the team is not yet so strong. Organized as a role play, it enables team members to represent ideas and positions more easily. I deliberately complement one viewpoint, that of the devil’s advocate, who questions everything and everyone. This role changes throughout the team and helps the team learn not to take criticism personally.

    • Hi Nils, Thank you very much for the comment! I completely agree – team should be developed in order to be effective and your suggestion is useful.

      To be frank, I’ve seen example when leader just combined a team of completely different people and it worked amazingly, but leader should be experienced enough (and brave enough to be frank) to walk this way, becasue the risk is high

  2. The employees properly selected, oriented, stimulated and surrounded by colleagues of the same level, will be working when you get a sufficient degree of autonomy. Otherwise, they will lie back. The autonomy should be, of course, won and deserved. Especially by applying the method of transmission of knowledge and dialogue, everything becomes easier. And there’s nothing better than being able to count on a team that is able to move independently, make decisions and carry out tasks without continuous supervision. That takes time to the manager, and demeans the work of those around him. But be careful when you use a real delegation because this will not have the aim to free up space and time to the management, but rather to enable the growth and empowerment of employees. It is therefore a leadership tool.

    • Hi Aldo, Thank you for comment! I agree with point that leader should be careful with delegation. Sometimes they delegate like giving orders. I hope any leader who’s still doing this will adopt habits of productive collaboration and effective communication, – these are the leadership tools of modern world.