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That next "big idea" is sitting at the table.

I'll admit that I'm usually the one at the table offering up ideas and solutions. I love working with teams in which egos have been checked at the door and, as a group, we only have one goal: Make the best decisions possible for the good of the whole! Through the years, too often there are people sitting at the table who stay quiet. Often it's because they're shy and we need to lift up their confidence by asking for input; generally, once they start contributing, the feel so much more "a part of". And, then there's those who come up with the wackiest ideas that make you want to roll your eyes! I love these people on the team, too. You really have to LISTEN to these team members because somewhere in that craziness may just be the next big idea!

How To Get Employees To Speak Up And Share Ideas

By Nicole Bendaly l Contributor l Forbes

In my last article, I discussed that great teams are made up of great minds that think differently, and although the benefits (and even necessity) of having team members who put forth different opinions and ideas is obvious to most leaders, there are still challenges. I also shared the concerns I hear most commonly from leaders:

What if I invite participation and hardly anyone responds?What if too many strong and opposing opinions lead to conflict?What if we can’t come to consensus?What if the idea with the most support cannot be feasibly implemented?
We addressed the first of these concerns last time; here are a few thoughts on overcoming the remaining three challenges.

What if too many strong and opposing opinions lead to conflict?

The simplest answer is, “Great!” Let me assure you, that answer isn’t as flippant as it might sound; in fact, it’s the opposite: A rich discussion process that prevents unproductive conflict where each person digs in their heals and where emotions are heightened is essential, but productive conflict in which team members choose to understand and respect the different perspectives around the table, leads to the exploration of differing opinions, and often results in better ideas, better decision-making and better support for the decisions at the end of the day. Achieving this depends on team members understanding the behaviors that create a positive discussion experience and agreeing to demonstrate them.

Positive discussion behaviors can be identified by most teams if asked, but many do not put them into practice. When a team is in a positive discussion mode, they are having a dialogue, meaning they listen openly to and explore one another’s thoughts and opinions rather than immediately challenging them. This requires putting aside one’s own opinion long enough to ask questions and truly consider the opinions of others.

Dialogue does not guarantee agreement, but it does ensure that if there is disagreement, it is productive and respectful.

How people feel is very important in reaching consensus. When there is dialogue, each team member feels that their point of view has been heard, considered, and most importantly, respected. Unproductive conflict results when negative emotions are engaged, particularly when someone takes offense or doesn’t feel respected, listened to or valued.

Creating an environment of mutual respect is a huge benefit of engaging in dialogue, but it’s not the only one. Examining one another’s suggestions leads to a clearer understanding of each perspective, which then leads to building on ideas and creating something better than any one member could have attained on their own.

What if we can’t come to consensus?

A dialogue that results in everyone thoroughly understanding each of the options shared and feeling a sense of respect and appreciation for one another is bound to make reaching consensus a whole lot easier. However, when I observe teams struggling to reach consensus, I find that team members often interpret consensus as everyone agreeing that one particular idea is best. Instead, understanding that consensus means a willingness to whole-heartedly support the decision – even if it’s not an individual’s first choice – is often a much-needed point of clarification. The ability to achieve support is ultimately determined, though, by the ability of members to engage in true dialogue that appreciates each person’s contributions. For true dialogue to occur team members must seek first to understand one another, then to be understood, as Stephen Covey shares in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What if the idea with the most support cannot be feasibly implemented?

This is a problem a leader may often face at the end of a discussion. The good news is if this possibility is dealt with at the beginning of the conversation, the situation may not arise – or at the very least, if it does, it can be easily dealt with. Taking time before the discussion is launched to identify feasibility criteria can pay dividends. The team then knows up front the parameters within which the best decision must fit. This structure also contributes greatly to a much more productive discussion process.

These questions are legitimate ones and are usually asked by leaders who realize that not having a team full of different ideas, openly expressed, is holding the team back from the superior performance they can achieve. Teams made up of great minds thinking differently improve products, solutions and outcomes; they create synergy that not only affects the quality of outcomes, but also energizes each team member. So does the relationship building that happens when members share differing ideas and explore them together.

In closing, here are three essential strategies for leaders to keep in mind when aiming to develop a team of great minds thinking differently:

Continually express the expectation that each member openly contributes their own unique ideas and opinions, and cultivate an understanding that making these contributions is part of their job.Ensure team members practice true dialogue in sharing and examining ideas.Recognize and celebrate the successes created by great minds thinking differently in your team.

Once each team member sees the value in contributing their ideas and listening to those of their teammates, sharing opinions and ideas will start to become second nature – and your team will be all the better for it.

ABOUT NICOLE BENDALY I’ve spent more than 20 years helping teams and leaders tap into the very best of themselves. As President of K&Co, author, speaker, and co-creator of the Team Fitness Tool, I understand the struggles leaders and teams face every day and know how hard it can be to lead and inspire others to reach higher. The good news is; it doesn’t have to be a struggle. I’ve dedicated my career to developing and sharing simple yet powerful tools and strategies that enable teams and leaders to achieve far greater results with far less struggle. I’d love for you to check out the complimentary resources available at and


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