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No One Is Too Junior to Have the Best Idea
A great idea is not defined by its source.
An idea worthy of consideration depends entirely on the quality of the idea. Yet, in many organizations, the ideas of inexperienced or junior colleagues go unnoticed or are never heard in the first place.
Implied status in many teams inhibits proposals and ideas from anyone but leaders and those with deep subject-matter expertise. This creates a deficit of great ideas, no matter how smart the experts are.
Asking the most inexperienced team members for their ideas, opinions, and viewpoints before asking anyone else is a great way for leaders to open up the idea floodgates. New and junior team members are often reluctant to offer a proposal or idea because they fear stumbling in front of those who lead them.
When a strong norm that encourages everyone to contribute their best thinking doesn’t exist on a team, the default is for inexperienced people to stay silent. Leaders who make sure to solicit ideas from junior team members at the start of any discussion establish the norm that offsets this tendency.
Good leaders also make a big deal of it whenever a valuable idea comes from a more junior colleague. Recognizing both the idea and the person in group meetings encourages others to put their hat in the ring. When team members know that good ideas can come from anywhere, they are more likely to step up to the plate and offer their best proposals.
The use of a “suggestion box” or similar process where team members can offer ideas anonymously seems to go in and out of vogue in some enterprises. This can be a good starting place to encourage colleagues to bring ideas forward, but it doesn’t replace the dynamic of a strong norm that any idea is worth what it merits, wherever it comes from.
Over time, leaders who rely too heavily on anonymous suggestion boxes give into the suppression of open dialogue. The norm that everyone should be comfortable advocating for an idea no matter where they sit in the organization or how much experience they have is essential to establish. Faceless ideas fail to create that standard.
Good leaders remain curious about ideas and judge them on merit, not on status or experience. An openness for great ideas is contagious on great teams. When everyone knows their ideas and proposals are welcome, teams get better through mere thought.