Perhaps this is because they are emotionally drained from the effects of the last four months. Valid. Perhaps they are disengaged. Concerning. Perhaps they are hesitant to speak up for fear their differing perspective may be misinterpreted and ruffle feathers. Fixable....and essential for businesses to emerge stronger than before. Teams that actively engage in (respectful) arguments are actually more innovative, competitive and higher performing. When opposing ideas are brought to light and explored, a breakthrough of creativity can occur and employees are more likely to be engaged in the success of a project when they’ve contributed to the creativity behind it.
While avoiding conflict, your team may be at a risk for “groupthink,” a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people make irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform. These decisions can lead to a team making poor decisions or putting out suboptimal work.
Consider encouraging engaging disagreements amongst your virtual teams to result in what all team members want: a transformative work product. Below, we’re sharing 6 ways to do this:
- Assign peer partnerships to critique one another’s work before it is reviewed by a manager. Creating a norm of frequent feedback, both from managers and peers, can help so it doesn't feel foreign when disagreements inevitably arise. In many teams there are both conflict avoiders, who tend to stay quiet when they disagree, and conflict seekers, who try to stir up disagreement. Identify who on your team plays which role and pair them with the opposite, as to encourage them to meet in the middle.
- Schedule video calls to brainstorm as a group utilizing a virtual white board or shared word doc. By hosting regular team brainstorms and feedback sessions, employees can get used to both presenting and receiving critiques virtually. If you aren’t physically meeting as a team, regular meetings via video are the next best thing to replicate the in-person communication.
- Consider adding regular virtual bonding time for the whole team into your schedule weekly to allow employees to better understand each other's communication style and how their work style may have changed since working from home. This can help encourage dialogue and make feedback from coworkers feel less like an attack. There are many online quizzes on work styles or personality types to help aid group discussion.
- Make it mandatory that every team member asks a question or raises a concern to another person’s idea during brainstorm meetings. Team members can then collaborate and improve on their ideas together.
- Make it safe to disagree. Managers can tap someone to push back on ideas presented in a meeting, either in the moment or arranged ahead of time. Thank the employee for voicing their opinion and bring up other good examples of when someone brought up good arguments against something the team was working on. By recognizing employees who do speak their minds and bring new ideas to the table, others can see that it is welcomed and appreciated.
- Assign people roles in meetings. Each brainstorming session should have one or more devil’s advocates responsible for raising concerns. This brings people to discuss ideas more thoroughly and consider possible outcomes in more detail.
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