Make Team Members Feel Heard — 5 Ways to Let Them Set Their Terms

Louise J. Santiago shares 5 ways a team leader can help make team members feel heard by helping them create team social agreements.“He acted like he heard me but really he completely ignored me.” My client was very frustrated when she recounted a recent experience at a meeting. Theoretically, everyone was on the same page, with each person doing their part to make team members feel heard, yet the reality was one strong-willed person was dominating.

My client was initially excited about this meeting. She was thrilled to be invited to work with this team that had been chosen to collaborate on a plan to increase their organization’s commitment to equity. But she went on to relate, “My ideas were met with, ‘Oh, that’s great, and we can also do this.’ And then he went on to outline the complete opposite of what I was trying to say. It was like I wasn’t even there! I don’t know if I want to be on this team anymore.”

Sadly, this meeting on equity was anything but equitable! It was yet another meeting that got derailed by someone who wants to promote their one way of doing things. I could totally relate, I think we all can. No one likes to be ignored, discounted, misunderstood, or forced to act against their will. Yet, it happens all the time. 

As a team leader or team member, could your leadership inadvertently be causing your team to feel this way? How can you make each team member feel heard and valued within the structure of your organization? Better yet, how can you really hear, and recognize, each member of your team?

Let’s begin with this premise: the success of an organization depends on the internal interactions between its people. These interactions influence every business outcome. Things like ground rules, norms, meeting guidelines, etc. can be the critical missing element to keep you all on the same track and communication flowing fluidly.

But you can change your team’s experience, by creating an environment of social learning that promotes equity. There’s great value in giving the group the power to set their terms. This helps everyone retain a feeling of control and security in their relationships with their leader and coworkers. At the same time, it instills a sense of responsibility, accountability, and trust. Equity is based on community, domain, and practice — people must feel that they matter as individuals and actively contribute to the whole. 

As more work is done remotely, there must be written agreements of how leadership, structure, and communication will be handled. You can’t assume that everyone understands concepts in the same way. For example, Joe might think that communicating the completion of each phase of a project means he needs to blast out an email consisting of the word “Done”, while Jerry writes a detailed outline of each step he’s taken to finish his task. Which approach is right? The one that works for everyone on the team! But you won’t know what that is without discussion and agreement.

Make team members feel heard by creating internal group agreements on leadership, structure, and communication.

  1. Encourage your team to draft the first set of agreements. As the team leader, facilitate a series of sessions where your team discusses all aspects of how they’ll work together. Here are 12 sample ground rules you can assist your team to discuss in-depth:

1. Being respectful of each other.

2. Communicating openly and effectively.

3. Giving constructive feedback.

4. Treating customers, coworkers, and managers equally.

5. Celebrating each other’s accomplishments.

6. Addressing conflict promptly.

7. Using time efficiently.

8. Establishing who’s specifically responsible for what tasks.

9. Identifying who monitors compliance.

10. Acknowledging everyone’s contribution.

11. Completing assigned tasks.

12. Meeting deadlines.

You’ll notice that as your team discusses how they’d like to work together, it will draw them closer together. 

  1. Make sure the team social agreement specifically details team behavior, acceptable and unacceptable. As the leader, help your group to openly discuss the ground rules for how each member will work together, make decisions, communicate, share information, and support each other. Don’t forget to address personal working-style preferences, which could breed misunderstandings and confusion.
  1. Leave no doubt as to how infractions will be handled. What are the specific consequences for violations of the agreement? Specify how the team will hold each other accountable.
  1. Ensure that each team member endorses the terms of the agreement. The agreement should be written collectively; it cannot be mandated by management or leadership. 
  1. Team agreements must be living documents. In time and through practice, your team will learn what works and what doesn’t. When you foster a learning atmosphere and create social learning spaces in your organization, you make it easier for your team to regularly revisit and update team agreements. It reminds them what it means to collaborate and excel.

It should go without saying that effective leaders model the behavior desired in the agreement. Ultimately, the leader and all of the members must truly care about each other. Are you intrigued to learn how you can more effectively lead your team, through social learning spaces? I’ve seen the principles of social learning work among teams of hundreds or for businesses with only a few employees. I invite you to sign up for my free email series: Social Learning Spaces for Teams.  You’ll find clear, actionable tips in each short email. And if you have any tips you’d like to share about how to make team members feel heard, I’d love to hear them. You can reply to the email or connect with me via LinkedIn or Facebook

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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