Commentary - 3 Sure-Fire Ways To Get Unbiased Opinions From Your Team

by Jeff Haltrecht

One of the more difficult things to manage with cross-functional teams is getting an unbiased opinion.  Inevitably, someone in the group talks first, putting a stake in the ground, and forcing others to either toe the line or deviate.  Even smart people who provide good input become pressured to adhere.  This is exacerbated if the person speaking first has seniority.

Groupthink will take over and solutions are not debated for robustness, leaving mediocre action plans and a lack of buy-in, and we all know where this leads.  If you are the leader of the team, it's your responsibility to identify when groupthink is taking over and use tools to ensure all ideas and opinions get on the table.

Here are 5 signs that indicate you are not getting unbiased opinions from all participants:
1.     Only 20% of the team members are speaking
2.     80% of the people are agreeing with the most senior person at the table
3.     The group has put forward less than 3 solutions/ideas
4.     The entire team keeps circling around the same problem like a broken record
5.     People are staying away from confrontational debate on key issues.

Now that we have identified when our team is missing out on unbiased opinions, we need to take action with one of three easy to use tools —  dotmocracy, one:one interviews, private voting.

This tool is the easiest to use and is very effective in supporting everyone's idea, no matter how good or bad the ideas are.  My experience suggests that in 90% of the situations, the best solutions do rise to the top.  Dotmocracy can be a planned exercise or brought out at the last minute to help the team find ideas and align.

The exercise starts with a brainstorming session where everyone is encouraged to get their ideas out, with the leader writing them on a flip chart.  Keep going until no more ideas are available.  From a robust group of people, this should generate around 20 opportunities in less than 20 minutes.

Now provide everyone with 5 yellow post-it squares or red sticky dots and ask them to vote for what they think are the best 5 solutions to the problem from the generated list.  Have everyone vote at the same time by placing their post-it/red dot on top of the ideas on the flip chart sheets.  Once everyone has completed this task, tally-up the scores.

You will find that the best ideas have naturally risen to the top, that everyone felt empowered during the exercise, and everyone feels accountable for the solution.

One:One Interviews
When dealing with very complex situations, problems with large risk, or contentious issues, one:one interviews before the team meets are an excellent way to obtain unbiased opinions.  This method is best used when needing to identify issues and potential solutions.

Speaking one:one makes the participants feel like they have been heard and it gives the interviewer more time to detail the entire issue/opportunity.

The team leader would then compile everyone's opinions into a summary and present the findings back to the entire group.  This information then becomes the foundation for decision-making.

Private Voting
Private voting is an excellent tool to be used during the team meeting when the leader wants to get an understanding of where everyone sits on a topic.  The leader would frame-up the issue/opportunity and than ask everyone to write down how they feel on a scale of 1 to 10.  Once everyone has jotted down their number on paper, the leader goes around the room and verbally collects the numbers, giving them an unbiased picture of where the team stands.

Here's an example:  "What level of impact do you think promotion A will have on our revenue in the next 3 months?  On a piece of paper write down a number between 1 and 10, with 1 being no impact and 10 being an increase greater than 20%"
Dotmocracy, one:one interviews, and private voting all deal with the same issue - lack of unbiased opinions - but come at it differently.  When used effectively, the team starts to make better use of time, getting more ideas out for debate, and making better decisions.  This is something every leader can use.