A Simple Tool That Helps Every Employee Feel Heard

By on January 29, 2020
Employee shares ideas for business improvement with coworkers.

I was facilitating a discussion with a continuous improvement team at a manufacturer of seats for an automotive plant. We were trying to come up with a solution to a problem in production. As our discussion was progressing, one of our team members turned to a team member who hadn’t said anything and said, “Charlie, you know a lot about the problem we’re discussing. What do you think we should do?”

Haltingly, Charlie shared some potential fixes for the problem. The team discussed them and decided one of his ideas would solve the problem.

And then something happened that I’ll never forget. Charlie came up to me after the meeting ended. With tears running down his face, he said, “This is first time in my twenty-five years of working here that anyone asked me, ‘Charlie, what do you think?’”

I asked Charlie if he would mind sharing what he had told me with the team at our next meeting. I asked him if he agreed that he had learned something very important about himself during our meeting and that his fellow team members probably did also.

He replied, “Sure, I’d be glad to.”

At our next team meeting, we opened with Charlie talking about how much it meant to him to be asked for his views on something and then to be listened to.

Hearing what Charlie said, one of the team members said, “You know, Charlie, we respect you and want to know what you think about problems we’re having in production.”

Charlie replied, “I never knew it.”

The team was silent as they processed Charlie’s words: “I never knew it.”

At this moment, they realized that a member of their team had not felt valued, and Charlie realized they did respect his input and that he should actively contribute to team discussions.

Ideas welcome.

The primary lesson learned from this moment is this: Never make assumptions about what members of a team are feeling or thinking.

When it seems one or more individuals isn’t participating in a discussion, one simple tool I’ve used as a facilitator and found to be an effective way to draw out the opinions of all team members is called “Show Your Cards.” Here’s how it works:

  • Each person has two minutes to voice their perspective on what is being discussed by the group.
  • During this time, interruptions or comments are not allowed.
  • At the end, every individual has had two minutes of hassle-free airtime, everyone feels heard, and ideas that could have been lost are shared.

This exercise serves as a reminder that every person has valuable, unique contributions to make about a topic and it’s important that everyone is heard.

Does your organization want to explore new ways to help employees feel valued? Learn more about our business solutions and custom training services at stlcc.edu/workforce.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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