3 valid reasons to ask for your team's opinions

Tom Moriarty says harness your team's ideas by asking questions.

By Tom Moriarty

Four of the most powerful words you can use as managers or supervisors are “what do you think?” Sometimes we don’t stop to think about how our team members feel about the way we interact with them. To be sure people like to have certainty with respect to boundaries in the form of policies, procedures, and performance expectations. But team members also want to feel good about the environment they work in.

There are at least three good reasons to be in the habit of asking people within your team what they think:

  1. It harnesses more brains with diverse perspectives working on problems.
  2. Including a person in developing solutions increases that person’s self-esteem and job satisfaction.
  3. It aids in gaining insight into depth of understanding of the organization’s objectives and goals.
Tom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years, then earning a commission through Officer Candidate School, retired as a Lt. CommanderTom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER. He is a former Coast Guardsman, having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years; earned a commission through Officer Candidate School; and retired as a Lt. Commander. During his final year of service, 2003, Tom was selected as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Federal Engineer of the Year; an award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). He is a member of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability professionals, the past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College, and an MBA from Florida Institute of Technology; Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in Florida and Virginia, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, various credentials in management and reliability fields. He can be reached at tjmpe@alidade-mer.com.

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Referring to Item 1, in most cases the team members don’t have the same information that the leader has been given. Conversely, it is difficult for the leader be aware of all the things the team members are experiencing. When you take the time to talk with people in your organization or make personal observations of how activities are being carried out, the leader can learn more. No one can see and know all there is to see and know about an organization.

A leader should strive to keep the team members informed as much as is practical. When team members are informed, they can provide better quality feedback when a leader asks for their opinions. If people are always kept in the dark or, worse, viewed as machine-like resources that can’t provide much value in decision-making, the entire organization loses out on a valuable source of information. Get in the habit of sharing relevant information; it often ends up providing solutions you would not have thought of.

Item 2 is important because your team members are human beings. To the less-aware leaders this may come as a shock, but it’s true. Human beings are affected by how they are viewed by others. Sincerely asking for someone’s opinion is a strong sign of respect, which increases self-esteem. When you disrespect someone, that person’s attitude and desire to do the best job decreases.

Most people have experiences of having worked for people with various leadership styles. When you think about the people you have worked for who you liked the most and liked the least, consider the level of respect that each of these leaders showed toward you. The leaders you didn’t like much were probably condescending, or perhaps you thought they were clueless. These attributes are both disrespectful toward team members. In the condescending case, the leader is directly disrespectful. In the clueless case, the leader is indirectly disrespectful by not being sufficiently knowledgeable or competent, which embarrasses the team among their peers.

Leaders that you enjoyed working for probably respected you by giving you the latitude to perform your work as you wanted to, so long as the quality and efficiency were reasonable. These good leaders probably shared information with you so you knew why things were occurring and so that you could anticipate things that were coming. Your team was respected among the other teams in the organization.

The third item as to why you should ask people what they think is mostly about the leader’s being able to gauge how well people are aligned with important concepts. If you ask someone for an opinion and follow up with “why do you think that?” you will gain tremendous insight. You can gain understanding on why they think what they think. It’s important to know where there are disconnects between the message you think you’re sending and what others are receiving. Remember that you know what message you believe you are sending, but you can’t know if the people on the receiving end of your message are decoding it as you intended unless you get their feedback.

By the way, the same concept of showing respect from a leader to the team members works just as well for working with your boss, or with peer managers and supervisors. It’s all about expressing respect for the opinions and challenges faced by the other person. Ask your boss or peers for their opinions and why they see things the way they do; don’t assume you know. The people who you work with have different ideas and different perspectives. Tap into this valuable resource by showing respect for their opinions.

Read Tom Moriarty's monthly column, Human Capital.