Once you have your diverse team together and understand both above and below the waterline issues that influence team member thinking, what does the leader actually have to do to ensure the team is effective? How does the leader get the full benefit of the diversity of their team? The goal is to identify a problem, surface divergent views, debate those views, then converge and act. There are a couple of things to be aware of. One is the influence that the first person to speak or the person who speaks most assertively on a team can have....people often line up behind those views. The leader's expressed point of view can also greatly influence the degree to which a team is willing to diverge in their thinking...."the boss had made up her mind" Subject matter experts can also affect the degree to which people are willing to present contrary views. A short list of how to deal with these issues and insure divergent thinking includes:
1. Designate a "devil's advocate". A very senior person told me last week that in his board meetings he designates a devil's advocate to present a challenge to an emerging convergence of opinion.
2. Know the style preferences and cultural nuances of your team members. Rather than open dialogue, designate someone to lead the conversation who might otherwise defer to an assertive, first mover.
3. "Listen for silence". This is especially important in teleconferences. If you haven't heard someone for some time on a conversation, invite their voice in.
4. Know your people well enough to detect non-verbal signs of discomfort. "Tom, I can tell you aren't comfortable with the way this conversation is headed. Can you share with us what you are thinking?"
5. Master the engagement skills of Inquiry, Advocacy, Mental Models and the Ladder of Inference. A short reference is at this link.
6. Daniel Kahneman even suggests team members write out their point of view on agenda items before dialogue starts. It's not practical for every agenda item in every meeting but for certain issues it is quite useful.
7. Be choiceful about when you express your point of view. If you truly are seeking divergence on an issue, guide the conversation but also let it flow. If you have a strong point of view, acknowledge it up front and invite challenge. How you handle the challenge is will determine to the degree to which people are later willing to do so. If you hammer dissenting views into submission, don't expect challenges to your thinking in the future. If you do have a strong point of view, withhold it and then later hammer disagreement into submission, don't expect much conversation in the future until you have spoken.
8. Watch for weak signals that challenge your own mental models. This can be especially important in mature teams where the leader's attitudes and views are well known and shared. This makes it even harder to surface a dissenting view.