Seven Ways to Develop Smart Teams


Fearful teams pretend they agree with you when they don’t. When was the last time someone spoke against something you said?

Better yet, are team conversations rich with options and alternatives? Or, are the people around you just dumb?

You’re team probably isn’t dumb. Bring out their wisdom rather than shutting it down.

Decide or explore:

Create interactions that rise above agreeing or disagreeing. Find ways to explore issues, rather than stating positions.

Defending positions doesn’t expand options.

The pursuit of decisions – something all leaders do – invites positional conversations that narrow options.

Positional conversations explain, support, or defend. They’re useful when making decisions. But, wise leaders expand and explore options before making decisions.

“Thinking isn’t agreeing or disagreeing. That’s voting.”

Robert Frost

Thinking conversations:

  1. Label conversations as, exploration-conversation. “Let’s explore our options.”
  2. When you hear positional language, stop it. “I agree with you, or, that sounds good.” is positional.
  3. Send them away to find solutions. Stop solving problems for people. “Why don’t you come back with a couple solutions we can explore this afternoon?”
  4. Define the big picture and desired results, but don’t define the path forward.
  5. Involve other departments or specialties.
  6. Frustrate people with dissatisfaction. “Can we find three more options?” Even when you’ve found “the” answer, ask for more.
  7. Withhold decisions.

Bonus: Talk with people who are actually doing the work.

Decisions end exploration.

Leaders tap the brains on the team. Conformity may feel warm, fuzzy, and safe, but it never innovates.

Your team doesn’t explore because you don’t want options. You’re too busy deciding. Time doesn’t allow you to explore options for every issue. But, the habit of fast decisions hinders exploration.

Teams that don’t explore repeat the past.

How can leaders create environments where teams create and explore options?