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Why great teams disagree

For successful teamwork, it’s crucial that the team is able to openly disagree with the leader.

Conformity is a powerful social force; intuitively we all wish to fit in and fear rejection. Particularly in the workplace, where much is at stake, people can find it hard to disagree with the boss, especially when she or he is popular. This can result in the leader becoming isolated and vulnerable to making poor decisions which can lead ultimately to organisational failure.

Lynn R Offerman in her article for The Harvard Business Review “When followers become toxic” suggests that leaders are typically wrong-footed by their followers when:

They attract and cultivate strong followers who present unified and persuasive arguments. Despite their best intentions, this results in bad decisions. Leaders, as well as followers, are prone to conform.

Charismatic leaders attract followers who flatter and protect them from uncomfortable truths. Sometimes strength can be a weakness if your team is afraid to challenge or contribute to decision making, happy instead, to bask in your glory.

Leaders have a responsibility to create an environment where conflict and disagreement can be aired safely

This is not about poor leadership, sometimes it’s because your team like and respect you too much to challenge you. You should encourage, indeed expect, your team to question the consensus.

A great example of this is Alfred P Sloan, former chairman of General Motors, who famously concluded a meeting with the words

“.. I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here. I propose that we postpone further discussion until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”

Six steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming isolated:

Mine for conflict by encouraging your team to express their views and deal with disagreement openly and fairly

  • Actively invite alternate viewpoints
  • Don’t accept the first solution as the only one
  • Identify an individual to act as a sounding board to provide honest opinions
  • Be aware of your impact, the more charismatic you are the greater your influence will be on others
  • Always keep your eye on the end task and don’t let your ego interfere with achieving it!

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