Abraham Lincoln’s famous team of rivals were able to work together because they were just that, rivals—not enemies. Diversity of ideas and disagreement among your team members is healthy for your organization. All-out war is not.
In a recent blog post, Patrick Lencioni writes that when a team cannot productively engage in conflict the diversity can even become a competitive disadvantage.
“That’s because when team members with divergent points of view cannot openly and passionately advocate their positions, the team will not be able to properly understand and incorporate those ideas into a final decision. Instead, they will frustratingly agree to compromise, walking away dissatisfied with the outcome and resentful of their team members who they still don’t understand,” Lencioni says.
When creating an atmosphere for constructive disagreement, which is what you need in order for all your team members to feel able to share their opinions, mutual respect is essential.
You can facilitate this by:
- Showing appreciation for effort and ideas, even when those ideas are not ultimately chosen.
- Limit emotion in presentations. Some emotion is good and can keep the meeting interesting, but when a presentation is overly emotional it may invite emotional responses. Debates that become emotional can devolve quickly.
- Separate the people from the problems. Make sure that your statements are not overly critical of individuals or teams and do not cast blame.
- Encourage team members to try to understand before trying to be understood. If everyone listens intently to what they others are saying—especially when they don’t agree—they’ll be less likely to respond in a harsh or personal tone.
- Let your team know that you want them to debate and that you welcome disagreement, because differing opinions will lead to better results.
“Every great idea is really just a spectacular disagreement with some other great idea,” explains New York Times Writer Bret Stephens. “In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.”
If you assemble a truly diverse team—diverse in thought, diverse in temperament and diverse in perspective—and then foster an environment where team members feel emboldened to speak their minds in a sometimes contentious but never disrespectful process, your organization will grow and innovate faster than you previously thought possible.