Healthy Organizations Have Honest Discussions
Posted by Mike Redmond on 12/3/2020
Redmond's Rules #10: Healthy Organizations Have Honest Discussions
I’ve had a bit of a hiatus in writing about Redmond’s Rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that over the past eight months, I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of writing, it just hasn’t been on the various pieces of my educational and leadership philosophies. Instead, the bulk of this writing has been on the subject of our school district’s pandemic response and answering questions pertaining to this subject. I’ve also been doing a fair amount of writing on the subjects of budget challenges and an operating levy. So, it’s a refreshing change of pace to turn my attention back to Redmond’s Rules and subject #10: Healthy Organizations Have Honest Discussions.
I mentioned one of my all time favorite books when writing about topic #9, Irving Janis’ Groupthink. The book is also very applicable on this subject, too. As Janis wrote about in Groupthink, we have to guard against creating cultures in which only good news is shared and members of the team are hesitant to speak up about the proposed plans for the organization. I would add that we also need to guard against creating a culture where challenges and other situations are only looked at from only one or even a few perspectives. In other words, it’s important to build into the process analysis from multiple perspectives. Early in my tenure here in Shakopee, the leadership team and I used the classic business management book Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono. In simple terms, each of the different hats in de Bono’s book represents a different way of seeing a situation. As we were getting to know each other as leaders and members of the same team, we took turns representing the perspectives of the six different hats. We would also as a group move from one of the hats at a time to the next hat when studying a situation. Doing this early in my tenure allowed our leadership team to develop a culture in which analysis from different perspectives was not only welcomed, but valued. As a group, we no longer routinely employ the six hats strategy, but we do consistently ask questions and seek analysis from a wide range of perspectives on nearly everything we do.
I’ve also learned over the years to simply ask questions in an attempt to bring additional viewpoints into the discussion:
- What are we missing in our process or our plan?
- What don’t you like about this particular topic, suggestion, or plan of action?
- How can we improve the current proposal?
- Are there other alternatives that we haven’t given enough consideration?
- What questions or concerns do you have with what’s just been shared?
These questions are designed to ‘flip the script’ and make bringing concerns the primary focus of the group. People are more apt to participate in this type of activity when it is a normal, expected part of the process.
As a society, I think we give too much praise to ‘answering questions’. It’s important. But, I would argue that we should learn to give more praise to the incredibly important skill of ‘asking questions’. I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of not asking enough questions before taking action. It’s been my experience that too often groups travel too quickly to get an answer, sometimes any answer, that they miss important pieces of information along the way that would have led to far better solutions and greater success had more questions been asked during the process.