Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed how frequently a team member pushes back on one of my ideas. Most recently, our Lead Team was meeting to zero in on our next Thematic Goal. As taught in Patrick Lencioni’s Advantage, the Thematic Goal is our “Rallying Cry” and the answer to the question, “what’s MOST important right now?”

In the previous meeting, we had honed in on three potential thematic goals. The team sought to wrap their minds around each and eventually cast votes on which one was the most important and would benefit the organization most significantly in the season ahead. As we ran out of time and steam, we decided to take a week to process and come back together the following week to nail one down.

In prepping for the finalization meeting, I began to wrestle with the sense that two of the proposed goals were too big and complex, without a clear endpoint, and the third was a bit undeveloped. All of them had merit and potential, but each lacked the clarity needed to attack it head-on.

So I came ready to propose an idea. Because we would be meeting virtually in response to COVID and had three ideas to push forward, we should tackle three separate and distinct “chicken nugget” thematic goals over the next 90 days. Heading in, I was pretty confident it was the right direction and came in with gusto.

A couple of minutes in, one of our leaders pushed back subtly. I countered and provided some added clarity as a further defense of my position. Shortly after, another challenged and suggested that we align around one common goal. Okay, so two pushbacks, this is gonna be harder than I thought. Before I knew it, I was surrounded, and my hope of three chicken nugget thematic goals dipped in Chick-Fil-A Polynesian sauce was moving toward the trash compactor.

As the conversation continued, the team not only rallied around the desire to have a single thematic goal but in doing so, they picked one of the three and locked it down in no time.

I gotta tell ya, I didn’t get my way, and it was a BLAST. Looking back, it almost felt like a grand strategy. Create a culture of pushback (some call it debate or conflict) and take a position.

Perhaps easier said than done, the following are a few ways to foster a culture where team members are free, encouraged, or, better yet, obligated to push back on ideas.

1. Build Trust

Fear kills trust. Trust paves the way for transparency.

2. Invite Debate

“I want the best ideas and not my own ideas to rise to the top.”

3. Own Mistakes

Create a culture and space for team members to share mistakes. Oh yeah, and GO FIRST. Team members need to know that the leaders are willing to admit they make mistakes too!

4. Broaden Responsibilities

Too often, team members are focused primarily on a specific role or set of tasks. The more we can shift from team members who show up to “do a job” to those who take responsibility for the organizational outcomes, the better our chances to sharpen ideas via pushback.

This is HUGE. If everyone on your team nods, gives a thumbs-up and smiles at every idea and directive, there’s some work to be done in this arena.

What are some other ways that you’ve invited and encouraged debate around ideas?

Cheers to being leaders who invite pushback as a means of pushing forward!

Josh Block

Josh Block

Josh Block is a Michigan native, husband, father of two, speaker, company president, and leadership advocate. He believes that healthy leaders, thriving teams and fulfilling work carry remarkable power to transform people and families.

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