Want Teamwork? Encourage Free Speech


NYT logo square“Is there anyone who’s not ready for me to sign this contract?”

Jeremy, the chief executive of a small manufacturing company, held up a pen and looked around the room. His core team of 25 stood looking at him. They knew this meant doubling production for a couple of months. No one spoke.

I was positioned a little behind Jeremy, facing the team. As a business consultant, my job is to increase efficiency. I do so by supporting collaboration. Because I am outside the usual power dynamics, I can offer feedback from a different vantage point. I chose to speak into the tense silence: “I don’t know if there is anyone who’s not ready. What I do know is that the way you framed the question, it’s unlikely anyone would feel free to say so.”

I suggested that Jeremy ask a different question: “Does anyone have any concerns they would like addressed before I sign the contract?” This question signals openness and encourages the kind of honesty that is crucial to collaboration.

Read full article here. Originally published in The New York TimesApril 12, 2014. 

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