The group was dead silent. I had just shared a major project idea that would require creativity and dedication. I expected ideas to flow. I anticipated my team to bounce around ways to implement, share schemes, objectives. But I got nothing. Not a peep from anyone. Alarm bells went off in my head as I thought, “This isn’t my team.” Typically, they are sharing ideas and brainstorming freely. Not this time.
I immediately stopped. I was reminded of Tim McClure’s saying: “The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.” It was time for me to reflect, assess what was going on, and make a change.
Often, when leaders hear it’s time to “make a change” many consider a reorganization, but I knew that would only be a bandaid and not a solution. Plus, I am deeply committed to my team. We are lifelong learners and experimenters. I knew the change needed to start with me! I needed to lead meetings that shifted team members from listening to engaging. I needed to foster the environment that allowed for free-flowing ideas to spark more curiosity and exchange. With a little research, I found a way to do this. Here’s how:
Stop Evaluating. Be Curious.
Yikes! I heard myself talk. I was in constant evaluation mode. “That won’t work,” was how I might respond to an idea. And I sometimes said the dreaded: “this is how to do it.” What an old school way to manage! How had I slipped into this mode? (That was definitely not my style.) With this realization, I immediately made a shift from passing judgment, to asking more questions. Questions like: “What if …” “How can we …” and “What am I missing?”
Become a Plusser
According to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Pixar writers and directors use a technique called “plussing.” This is a way to build on ideas without judgmental language. Instead of rejecting a sketch, for example, a ‘plusser’ might ask questions such as: “I like Woody’s eyes, and what if we ….?” Then, someone else might jump in with another “plus.” Think of it as a way to say, ‘in addition to that idea, how about also considering this.’
But wait a minute. This style of brainstorming could create unproductive, run-away-train types of meetings, right? Nothing could be farther from the truth. According to a Harvard Business School study, natural curiosity is linked with better job performance. (Direct bosses evaluated and confirmed this finding.)
And we found the same result. Just this little shift in communication brought my team back on track! The freedom and encouragement to express new ideas created a major buzz and spark. Plussing has allowed my team, once again, to become self-motivated to be their best selves—curious experimenters and dedicated learners.