We all likely know what it is like to work in an environment, or for someone, who does not value differing opinions or points of view. It stifles real discussion and it handcuffs the real power of high performing teams – collective brain power! Do you work in a safe place?
Years ago I was working in an organization that sent me to a management development program over the course of a week. We had attendees from all over the country, representing differing skill sets, and at various points of development. The thing we had in common, was that the organization had identified management potential, and were willing to invest in our attendance at the program. On the last day of the program we were told that the head of the organization would be visiting for 20 minutes to speak to us and answer a few questions. We were excited to say the least. When he arrived he spent 10 minutes articulating his vision for the future and where he saw us fitting into that future. I have to admit his ability to use words to create engagement was inspiring. When he finished, he asked for questions, and I remember to this day his words: “any topic – everything is on the table.” A quiet but thoughtful colleague from another province put up his hand and asked a question about a program that was rumored to be on the chopping block, and he asked for the rationale behind that possibility. I’ll never forget the answer – the head of our organization said “I will assume by participation in this program, you have aspirations to advance in the future – So my advice to you is to rethink your question.”
Wow – the room went silent, he was whisked off by his handlers, and I knew for sure I was not working in a safe place! Clearly not everything was on the table.
If you are a leader, you have a responsibility to create a safe work environment for your team. An environment where differences of opinion are welcomed. A place where people feel safe to challenge the status quo, and to offer differing points of view and suggestions.
That being said, if you have the good fortune to work in a safe environment that also comes with a responsibility. It is the understanding that not everyone will agree on everything all the time. If you are given the freedom to speak freely, and challenge suggested courses of action, you have the responsibility to support the agreed to course when the meeting door opens, whether it was your preference or not.
So back to the key questions – do you work in a safe place? If you are a leader, do you foster a safe work place? If not, give it a try and see what the power of “us,” roaming freely, can accomplish.