April 27, 2020

Disagreement is good for business

Teams that have trust, feel that their voices are heard, that their opinions count, and that they have an environment where disagreement can happen.

Up and down the country, all across the world, people are concerned because their team don't always agree.  I'm here to tell you that this is normal. Nay, it's better than normal. This is a good thing!

Humans are social creatures - we thrive on the existence of, and our part within, a social hierarchy and structure. When this structure collapses, or social cohesion begins to dwindle, we panic. Because humans also dislike change and anything which is a threat to the norm.

What this means is that in our home lives, at work, and when we're out and about, we do our best not to upset other people. To kindly nod and agree, to ignore the people skipping queues (or at least not to confront them), and to not call people out for being rude or unfriendly. We simply internalise it, and move on.

So, at work, it feels natural that when a question is posed, or feedback is requested, and you really dislike something, you suck it up and deal with it. None of us want to upset the apple-cart, even less so if it means disagreeing with someone we perceive as being more senior than us, or with greater standing in the hierarchy. This means that people end up quietly accepting the fate of the decision and moving on.

I'm here to tell you that this is the wrong way to go about things.

High-performing teams - that is, teams who operate at or close to their peak efficiency and output, whilst also outperforming other teams of a similar makeup, require a number of things in order to become, be, and remain successful:

  • Excellent communication - without this, teams end up stepping on each other's toes far too often, and solid lines of communication allow avenues for further cooperation and teamwork.
  • A Common Purpose/Goal, which allows the team to drive constantly toward an outcome.
  • Clear, well-defined roles, which allow for some level of interdependence - this again stops team members from stepping on each others toes, whilst ensuring that people are both playing to their strengths whilst allowing their colleagues to do the same.
  • Accepted Leadership, which is democratised, and provides a structure to enable cooperation, and to foster good decision making.
  • Effective Processes and methods - ones which enable the team to operate efficiently without getting in their way, and which add value to productivity, rather than serving as a barrier to it.
  • Good relationships, providing an open environment for all.

What these things all require is trust. Both in each other as a team, in the process as a whole, and in the wider plan that everyone is working to.

So where does the disagreement come in? Well, teams that have this trust, feel that their voices are heard, that their opinions count, and that they have an environment where disagreement can happen.

It is this environment which tells people "It's okay to disagree with me". This can lead to greater friction within a team, but the above qualities ensure that this friction is minimised, quickly resolved, and that there are no lingering feelings of anger between members.

By fostering this attitude and culture of open-ness, people feel empowered to speak their true beliefs, to be open and honest with one another and to call out bad behaviours and ideas. This allows a high-performing team to cut through bad ideas, refine those that need refinement, and to ensure that everyone's viewpoint is at least heard - sometimes not all opinions or thoughts can be acted upon but by ensuring people feel heard, they feel engaged and committed to the team.

The crux of this is that if you aren't disagreeing, you might come up with some good ideas, but you won't have the attitude required to refine them into really great ideas. This is bad for business. Value is not driven by 'good-enough' thinking. It's driven by people striving for bigger, better, greater things. So let those people drive, and listen to them.