Excerpted from The Firefly Effect: Build Teams That Capture Creativity and Catapult Results
1. Have the team write down their thoughts first before sharing them aloud. This gives each member a moment to consider how best to phrase their points in order to ensure that others receive the message as intended. It will also help to keep comments tight and on point versus sharing rambling thoughts off the top of their heads, or being ill-prepared to disclose any topics that they feel are worthwhile.
2. Have a small-group discussion first, followed by a large-group debrief. There is safety in numbers. If something difficult needs to be said, the spokesperson can defer to the group's thinking without taking personal responsibility. Together, they can also figure out the best way to raise a delicate issue before bringing it to the entire team's attention.
3. Have the team leader leave the room for part of the discussion. While Douglas says she doesn't normally advocate this technique, she has opted for it when extremely sensitive issues are involved or when team members feared a leader's retribution.
"In one situation, a manager whose team saw her as overbearing and unreasonable wanted to know what they expected of her as a leader," explains Douglas. "She thought they would be more open in sharing this if she were not in the room; and she was right about that. Their respectful but candid feedback, which she accepted graciously and without defensiveness, went a long way toward building a strong bond between them."
4. Submit comments anonymously. If this is a highly sensitive subject, anonymous comments are a great way to solicit input. Protect anonymity by distributing paper and pencils for everyone to use so that there is no guessing about who wrote what. Of course, be sure to mix up the papers after you collect them prior to sharing them with the group.
5. Use round-robins. This is a great way to make sure that you give everyone equal airtime. Depending on where you are in the discussion cycle and how much time is remaining, you might need to ask people to limit their input by asking them to speak in headlines; that is, as you might read it on the front page of the newspaper. Do not use this approach, however, if you have not fully vetted a topic. People may feel pressured to summarize their position in a headline without providing some rationale as to why they feel this way.
6. Always have the leader offer her opinion last. This is one sure way not to influence the direction of the discussion. If you're the leader, don't let the team know what direction you are leaning on a topic until you have heard from everyone. Who knows—you might even change your mind! And when you do share your opinion, be sure that you clearly show that you value what others have said before you. Be candid and honest with your opinion—as they all were—but keep in mind that your perceptions carry extra weight with the group, so measure your words accordingly.