In a previous post Leadership and a Trusting Culture I talked about the importance of developing trust as a critical component of managing change in any organization.
To build trust, leaders must first develop listening skills.
Team members must know that their ideas will be heard and given proper consideration. The synergies to be derived from team participation will never be realized if team members don’t trust that their leadership will listen and have a capacity to understand them.
Well intentioned leaders often “kill” ideas without even realizing that they are doing it. A large number of phrases have crept into our daily speech that result in immediate freezing of the desire to openly share ideas. “We have tried that before”, ” that will never work” are some examples of idea killing phrases that will halt any creative cooperation. Being careful to refrain from providing “knee jerk” negative feedback is an important skill to be acquired by all leaders.
It is a well established method in all types of brainstorming exercises to withhold criticism while ideas are being gathered. The absence of criticism provides an atmosphere where creativity is uninhibited. Once all ideas are vented, the leader and the team may engage in the critical evaluation of the benefits, costs, and general practicality of each solution to the problem at hand.
The “wild and crazy” ideas that appear impractical at first, often become the real problem solvers. If team members are free to think and express themselves they can often put a different “spin” on an impractical idea that overcomes the initial objections. One idea may be the initial spark of creativity that can be used as a “springboard” by other team members.
When a leader criticizes prematurely, or places too many limits on the types of ideas that are welcomed, the results are predictably unproductive. In a recent Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams makes this point.
Tom Feltenstein offers a hilarious and powerful video, titled “99 Idea Killers.”
Paul Williams advises teams to “pause before you pounce” on an idea. He has developed “Idea Killer Bingo Card” to help teams recognize their own use of reactive negative feedback.
I heard one of QMA clients express disappointment with the results of their “suggestion box” recommendations. In facilitating some of their team efforts it became evident to us that leaders, at all levels, were quick to criticize the ideas of others and find reasons why the solutions wouldn’t work. They often assumed they knew the answers to the problems.
After privately confronting them with their negative attitudes towards the ideas of others, they made genuine efforts to improve the way they interacted with team members. It turned out that many of their inefficiencies were easily eliminated once team members trusted their leaders to listen to them and became fully engaged in the organization’s continual improvement efforts.
What is the worst idea killing criticism you’ve witnessed? Do you have a special technique to deal with negativity of “idea killers”? Please share your comments below.