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If you take a few seconds to reflect, you can likely recall the feeling of being silenced and the feeling of being given a voice. Both feelings are powerful and shaping, and the two couldn’t stand further apart.

Early in my career, I experienced the feeling of being silenced. I was trained that ideas start up top and move down, and I was “down.”

Around that same time, a woman 45 years my senior sought my advice on a project. It was the first time in my young career I felt empowered, and I left that meeting high above the clouds, beaming with confidence, and motivated to make my mark. I was given a voice that day. A few days after that meeting, M&R was founded. That simple empowerment, against a backdrop of being silenced, was all it took to gain the confidence to launch an idea.

Sometimes working at a small business feels like being in high school. You have the in-crowd and the out-crowd. You have those who make decisions and those who don’t, those whose voices are heard and those whose voices are ignored.

As business leaders, one of our primary focuses should be on building a team-first environment where everyone is heard and valued … where every voice is the same volume. If your hiring process is thorough and rooted in your core values, you should be hiring confidently, and every new hire should be given a voice and respect on day one. They earned that the day your hiring team decided they were a fit.

And don’t forget that they also chose you, and they can also un-choose you.

Here are a few things that will quickly silence your team:

  • The meeting before the meeting
  • Asking for input out of obligation, not sincerity
  • Dominating conversations
  • Selfish thought

Healthy Teams Make Decisions Together

The Census Bureau tell us that 89% of businesses have fewer than 20 employees and 98% have fewer than 100 employees. Small businesses are easily swayed by what may seem like a few small decisions. Even just one decision within a small group of people can inspire motivation or deplete it. When a decision is made without consulting a large sampling of the company, that decision may not be in the best interest of the majority of the company.

Top-down decisions simply don’t build healthy cultures and healthy teams.

There are countless theories and strategies for how to make group decisions, but at the risk of over-simplifying, all decisions that affect multiple people should be made alongside a sampling of your company. If your decisions are made by your senior leadership, you should guide your senior leadership on how to solicit input from the teams they lead. Everyone may not be at the meeting, but everyone should be represented.

You should also have an environment where everyone feels comfortable bringing up new ideas, and not just when decisions are being made and opinions are solicited, but at any point and around any topic.

The Fruit of Inclusion

When every voice is the same volume, a few things happen:

  1. Your culture becomes marked by mutual respect
  2. Everyone moves in the same direction toward shared goals
  3. Your team fights for each other
  4. Initiation blossoms and new ideas are generated
  5. You experience shared success and group wins
  6. Confidence is formed and your team is prepared for new roles
  7. You don’t lose your voice after one mistake, but instead you learn from it

You have a world of competitors out there and the last thing you need as a small business is competitors inside your organization.

When every voice is the same volume, it removes the yelling (you don’t have to compete to be heard) and the silence (you have the confidence that your voice matters), and you find the perfect, soothing volume that evokes teamwork and respect.

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