Tne major difference between a winning team or organization and an inferior one is effective communication. When people have to take their best guesses about whether an idea is intended to be discussed or needs to be carried out, it wastes time, effort, resources, and is frustrating for all. Without clear communication, it can be difficult for management personnel to know for certain how their ideas are being perceived by those whom they manage. Sometimes an idea is only intended to encourage discussion. But if that idea is presented with enthusiasm or passion, it could be misinterpreted as something that is supposed to be acted on much sooner than the manager who presented it intended. Expectations must be clarified and the intensity of a commitment must be expressed. One way to bring clarity to the intent and intensity of an idea is by associating these word pictures in connection with an idea:
A notion is an idea that maybe hit someone while they were waiting to fall asleep at night, or perhaps while attempting to distract themselves from the aggravation of sitting motionless in a gridlocked highway traffic jam. Since it probably has not been thought out, it is intended to inspire discussion for the purpose of exploring whether or not the idea is a dud or has the potential to bring about positive results.
An idea that is a stake is a little more mentally organized. Just as one might put a stake in the ground when putting up a tent, an idea that is a stake offers some framework for starting a discussion, and perhaps even finding a solution, but tent pegs are moveable. In other words, a bit of time and effort has been done on researching the idea, but the input and research of others can offer additional shaping and molding in the development of an idea.
A boulder is an idea that has had some intensive research performed by the person who is presenting it. The person presenting it may be open to doing some tweaking of the idea here and there, but any major changes will require some very specific and detailed information from team mates who might be in disagreement with the idea.
A tombstone idea is one for which no discussion is welcome and negotiating is not an option. This type of idea is one to which the person presenting it is so committed he or she will quit his or her job over it. Tombstones are often about core values or beliefs, and would leave a person feeling like their integrity or the core of who they are is being violated.
Sometimes the reason people in organizations become “yes-people” is because they lack the ability to discern whether those in management are presenting a notion, a stake, a boulder, or a tombstone. So rather than leaning into discomfort, they do or say what they think is going to be safe.
As for others who are a part of the organization who might be a bit bolder, if they are uncertain of the intent and intensity of an idea, they might express disagreement at a time when extensive discussion is not wanted, and then an important deadline might be missed. Or they may end up not offering a great deal of participation when their input is desired by the one presenting the idea. So a clear intent and intensity can mean the difference in connection to the desired outcome of an idea.
Sometimes expressing clear intent and intensity might require a person to lean into discomfort. If a person is not quite convinced that they are in an open and safe environment, he or she may be concerned about criticism or that speaking out could somehow put them in a negative light with co-workers and management, or perhaps he or she thinks that the intent and intensity ought to be obvious. Clarifying intent and intensity diminishes misunderstanding and helps to cultivate a spirit of teamwork and collaboration, especially if people end up expressing a stake or notion in a passionate manner. It is also important for leaders to check with team members every so often to make certain that none of the clarifications are being overused and causing undue distractions, as can potentially happen with notions and stakes; or on the opposite extreme, they could discourage team participation, as can happen with boulders and tombstones.