Listen, Challenge, Commit!
Listen wholeheartedly, challenge others with respect, commit to a decision, regardless of whether you agree with it or not, and execute on that commitment. This simple decision making process helps you build highly productive and cohesive teams.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” - Stephen R. Covey
And some people don’t even listen - they either completely tune out as the other person speaks or constantly interrupt them!
To create a productive team, the first and most important step is to listen. When I say listen, I don’t mean to hear the other person. I mean listen to them with empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and see the world from their point of view, be genuinely curious and ask questions to understand their feelings, pain points and goals.
A lot of arguments happen because people don’t listen wholeheartedly to others. It is easy to get defensive and argumentative when you feel the other person doesn’t care about your idea. So it’s very critical that during this phase you don’t interrupt, disagree, or even agree. You do one and only one thing: you listen intently.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Challenging, as awkward and uncomfortable it might be, is critical to make a good decision, grow a team, and create cohesion and trust between team members. Without challenging, you may make a wrong decision, or even if the decision is right, you may not buy into it without fully understanding its details.
So after everyone’s had a turn in presenting their ideas, you move to the second step - Challenge. Make this transition very clear and explicit. Up to this point, no one was allowed to agree, disagree or argue with others. This is your chance to challenge others. The goal is not to win an argument. The goal is to build on each others’ ideas or to explain your view and get buy in. So don’t hold anything back in this phase. If you disagree with someone, explain your objection clearly and respectfully.
People repeat themselves over and over again when they don’t feel heard or understood, and challenging, without listening, could turn into a heated argument. So everything I said above about listening applies just as much here. When someone’s challenging an idea, everyone needs to tune in, listen to them intently, empathise with their objective, fears and uncertainties about the idea.
Don’t interrupt the flow, don’t get defensive, don’t cut conversations short and don’t hold anything back. It’s a lot cheaper to make a right decision everyone buys into than to make a rushed one. At the same time, don’t go around the circle or on tangents. Move to the next step once everyone’s raised their objections and explained their ideas.
“When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.” - Howard Schultz
Once you’ve made a decision, regardless of who agreed or disagreed with it, everyone should commit and execute it like it’s their own decision. There is no argument, no challenge, no “but I didn’t agree”. Everyone has fully discussed their ideas and challenged others. You are heard and understood. The only thing that matters now is the decision made by the team. Roll up your sleeves and help your team execute on that idea with the best of your ability.
Not every decision can be made with involvement from everyone though. Many times, particularly in larger organisations, you find yourself executing a decision made by another group. Now what?!
You have two choices: you can fully commit to the decision and execute it as if it was yours, or you can choose not to commit. Let’s break this down and see it in action:
- It’s a great decision and you commit: it can’t get any better than this.
- It’s a great decision and you don’t commit: you just obstructed your team and organisation from achieving its full potential. A decision or idea, no matter how great, is doomed to fail without proper commitment and execution.
- It’s a bad decision and you don’t commit: without commitment you don’t invest much effort into it. You waste a lot of time without achieving much; so no one, including your boss, buys into your arguments around why it’s a bad idea, and if the decision fails, you might be blamed for it because of your lack of commitment.
- It’s a bad decision and you commit: you show your full commitment and give it your best shot even though you think it’s a bad decision. With full commitment, you can try multiple approaches and come to an objective conclusion. With your full commitment, what appeared to be a bad decision might actually turn out to be a great one. Even if it doesn’t, when you go to your boss and say “hey, I’ve tried these approaches and this doesn’t seem to work. I don’t think this is a good idea”, you have much higher chance of being heard.
You see - it doesn’t matter if the decision you’re handed seems to be a good or a bad one. Everyone wins when you commit and everyone loses when you don’t. Commitment is the difference between doers and whiners, achievers and victims, great teams and average ones.
A team is not a team without commitment - it’s a collection of individuals with personal agendas. We’ve all worked in those teams - they’re not fun!
Teams with no ownership
I know quite a few managers and executives who complain about lack of ownership and commitment from their team! In fact I used to be one of them.
Most people don’t wake up in the morning aspiring to be a blocker or slacker. They want to do something they like and value. The challenge is that it’s hard to commit when your ideas are not valued and your voice is not heard.
A lot of companies move the decisions to where the information is: to higher management. Ironically, your chances of making a good decision is quite limited if you’re not involved in day to day execution of it. If you want commitment, share the information with those who should execute the decision and/or live with its consequences, listen to them, challenge and coach them, and involve them in the decision making process. I am absolutely certain you will get much more commitment from your team when you do this.
Listen, Challenge, Commit
“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” – Seth Godin
Listen, Challenge, Commit is a very simple decision making process for creating great teams. The process, while simple, is not easy to implement: most of us are really bad at listening, we find challenging awkward and uncomfortable, and don’t fully honour our words.
You might find it hard to start with this; but I’m certain you will get better the more you try it. One thing that certainly helps implement such a process is communicating your values and expectations clearly with your team. Here is how I communicated my values and expectations with a team I led a while back. As you see, there is a lot of alignment between this process and my values, and that made it somewhat easier.
I hope this helps. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think and please let me know how you go if you decide to give this a shot. I’m also keen to hear about your approach to decision making and execution, if you have a different process.