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How do you create a culture of diverse thinking?

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CEOs have to make dozens of decisions every day. But the road to decision making isn’t just about making sure everyone on the team agrees. When the emphasis is on agreement rather than on problem solving, groupthink can occur. Groupthink creates a barrier to creativity, stunts growth and makes employees feel powerless and unmotivated. Employees in companies plagued by groupthink do not feel safe to speak out authentically. They struggle to feel connected to their organization’s mission, their work and their ability to make an impact.

I have found that the best leaders know that successful solutions reflect real discourse and diverse perspectives. They actively work to prevent groupthink from making its way into their corporate culture by cultivating the following practices:

Related: How To Prevent Groupthink From Ruining Your Business

Surround yourself with people who think differently

This practice ensures that groupthink does not creep into corporate culture. Individuals from unique backgrounds encourage each other to consider different possibilities beyond the realm of their own experiences.

Listen

Great leaders set the tone and make sure everyone in the room feels heard by encouraging open, respectful, and accepting dialogue. Those who have mastered listening can make as much room as possible in brainstorming sessions and discussions for extroverted and introverted employees. The best ideas are not always the loudest.

Be transparent about prejudices

This one starts from above. Vistage Chair David Zerfoss says, “If you’re the smartest in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Successful leaders are able to let go of the limiting belief that their ideas are the best and the brightest by default. Instead, they are transparent about their pre-existing biases and allow others to challenge them as long as they do so respectfully and thoughtfully.

Looking for input from employees at all levels

It’s easy to be isolated by one’s immediate executive team. Every employee must feel that his voice can be heard, even when he is not at the boardroom table. It is irreplaceable to hear direct feedback from employees who regularly interact with customers. Likewise, bouncing ideas from trusted colleagues from other industries provides new, unique insights and protection from bias and prejudice.

Related: You Won’t Know What You Don’t Know Unless You Listen To Different Voices

Learning from failure

We know that those who take risks often fail before they succeed. When employees who deliberately take risks and fail are punished, employees are told not to take any risks. This kills innovation and idea generation.

Asking the right questions

Leaders might think their job is to attend meetings and pick the most popular ideas instead of asking clarifying questions that really try to understand. Great leaders challenge their team to explain the potential implications of ideas. Making informed decisions takes work, time, energy and discernment. Relying on groupthink can be a solution.

Staying curious and fostering an open dialogue

Executives may think their job is to sell and persuade rather than engage in dialogue. When I first started, I believed that leadership was all about coming up with an idea, putting a team together, and convincing the team to get behind that idea. Later I found out that was not the right approach. The most effective leaders remain curious and open the conversation to dialogue and dissenting points of view.

I have continuously seen the power of diverse thinking in my own career. At a previous company we had the opportunity to expand into software. Our executive team held an outside meeting to discuss, and we all agreed not to go ahead with it. But then an executive raised his hand and respectfully asked that we reconsider. He asked for a short time to meet with colleagues and make a proposal for our consideration. Two weeks later, he presented a plan that single-handedly changed the course of our company’s future for the better. To think I was a stone’s throw from closing the books on a great idea, were it not for the fact that someone was looking at it a little differently than the rest of our team.

Related: True Innovation Starts With Diversity

Great leaders know when it’s time to stop collecting data and make decisions. With so many opinions and perspectives on the table, there’s a point where you have to say, “Thank you. I’ve got everything now. Let me take a moment to think about it and come back with our plan.” Once a plan is in place, it is important to reconnect with those who may have encountered opposition during the process. By recognizing their contributions and providing insight into the decision – why it was made and what benefits it will bring – people are encouraged to make their voices heard again in the future.

When leaders are transparent about their biases, give their team room to express their views, and challenge everyone to think about the implications, it fosters diverse thinking, collaboration, and ultimately accountability. CEOs who overcome groupthink and utilize a wide variety of perspectives in their decision-making process propel their organizations to success.

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