Do you know what it feels like when you are gathered with a group of people who you love and trust, and you feel so comfortable, confident, and safe to be able to share ideas that have been on your heart about how things can get better?

That is what it feels like when you give your people a shot at a seat at the table. It doesn’t mean that they have to attend every meeting. It doesn’t mean that you’re asking them to be your board of directors. But people want to contribute.

Leaders often tell me, “I just want my people to feel like they are contributing, and sometimes I’m not sure that I’m creating the kind of climate where they’re able to do so.”

So my suggestion to them is to initiate some program in your own leadership style where you’re giving people a chance to have a seat at the table. When are you offering a meeting with no agenda other than to give people a chance to voice their opinion — opinions not complaints. You have to set proper ground rules. You want to make sure your expectations are super clear about how this time is being used. You want them to have had time before the meeting to think about things. What you really want them to understand is that you are giving them an opportunity to be part of a think tank. This is also your chance to pick their brains and to let them know that their opinion matters. So pre-event questions might be:

  • What do you think we’re doing that is really working?
  • What do you think that we’re doing that’s not working?
  • What are some ideas that we can talk about that you see need to happen that maybe we haven’t even thought about?
  • What are things that you know are happening that you think might be counterproductive?
  • Where are we having mixed messages within our company?
  • Where are trouble spots that you think we should address so that we can prioritize them on our Improvement agenda?

Give people the opportunity to really search their own minds.

These things are being talked about. We just don’t want them to be complained about at the water cooler. We want to give them a chance to tell you! We also want to set the expectation that if they’re not taking the opportunity to tell you, a leader who is in a position to make a difference, about what is on their hearts, if they’re talking at the water cooler instead, that’s not the same as constructive contribution. That’s actually complaining, and we want to make sure people understand that a toxic culture is not going to serve anyone. If you have something that you know needs attention, we want to give you the opportunity to bring it to us so that we can do something about it.

So this is your chance to train your people that there is a right way to talk about the things that they would love to see adjusted and receive attention and a wrong way to do that. That you want to be able to give them the opportunity to share so that you can make a difference for your people.

Understand that getting real contribution from people is doing way more than getting good ideas. It is giving your people the knowing that they are valued and appreciated and that they have a voice that matters to you. My recommendation? Have think-tank time. Have some way that they can come together and contribute.