Is it time to disagree?

If you want to see whether your team has a robust and healthy culture look at how it handles disagreements and differences of opinion.

People often think that having a healthy team environment means everyone needs to agree – all the time.  It’s the fallacy of ‘consensus rules’.

The fact is too much consensus is unhealthy.  When you have team members unwilling to challenge or disagree with each other, you’re setting yourself and your team up for future failure.

Teams need to be able to robustly discuss and disagree as part of the decision making process.

ANU Professor, Andrew Hopkins, has written extensively on risk failures, and the dangers of consensus decision making.

As an expert in this field he’s found that groups are often more inclined to make riskier decisions than individuals.  This is because of the process of de-individualisation.

How this plays out is that because there are many people responsible for the decision, the individual feels as though they are not personally responsible for it.


They are therefore more likely to take risks, and can be persuaded by the group to go against their own values.

He says: “Everyone is responsible for the decision which means, in turn, that no one person feels personally responsible.  The end result is non-responsible decision making”.

As a leader you want to encourage healthy debate and questioning, and to explore ideas from multiple angles.  To do that you need to nurture a culture where differences of opinion are seen as a good thing – an opportunity to fully examine an issue.

When issues are not raised, they are just driven underground where they’ll bubble up later.

Think about encouraging your team to engage in spirited conversations – rather than silent, shallow or stunted conversations that don’t advance the decision making process.

These are not aggressive conversations where one person dominates.

Spirited conversations create energy, spark new ideas, help people think more clearly about the position they hold, and open the room to different perspectives.   It’s about sharing your thoughts in the spirit of achieving a better and more robust decision.

Remember, change happens. So make it work for you.

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