Compound the wealth

How to unleash your team’s genius

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

You may have a high IQ, but that won’t lift the collective IQ of your colleagues. The best way to make everyone smarter is to let employees exchange ideas without fear.

To spur creative collaboration, strip away inhibitions. Encourage workers to experiment rather than discard their ideas. Take the risk out of asking “dumb” questions by asking them yourself.

Above all, bite your tongue when you hear ideas that seem stupid or unworkable. Reserve judgment. Remain curious and prod people to think. Here’s how:

Throw “idea parties.” Grab some employees and congregate in a relaxing setting (such as a park or coffee shop). Explain that you want to have a brainstorming session. Pose a broad challenge and let participants’ minds roam freely.

To add festivity, give out prizes as people make contributions. Reward fresh insights with gift certificates or other giveaways. Alert the group that “we’re in this together” and “no one will be shot down for speaking up.”

To enforce this rule, give out Nerf balls so everyone can pummel any cynics, naysayers or bullies. This builds camaraderie while reminding critics to soften their hard edges.

Create a board of experts. Just as a corporation has a board of directors, you can set up an in-house board of experts who pool their knowledge. The first step: Ask your employees to identify their No. 1 work-related expertise. Examples: Public speaking, computer repair, graphic design.

Emphasize that their expertise need not fall directly within their job duties. A secretary may pride herself on mastering financial statements. A salesperson may develop cutting-edge skills in e-commerce.

Convene meetings of your experts and invite the rest of your staff to attend. Keep the discussion informal so that employees bounce ideas off each other and compare their experiences. Result: Everyone gets smarter.

Extract facts. Whenever your team meets, follow up by asking, “What did you learn?” This trains your employees to look for new knowledge and perspectives.

Ideally, ask that question privately. Help staffers feel safe admitting they did not know something by praising their ability to “pick that up.” Conclude by examining how they can apply new insights to improve their performance.

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