Collaboration and Disagreement

Bob Wiesner | February 5, 2019

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When a team works together, it’s naive to expect all members are going to agree on everything that’s important.

Heck, if everyone agrees on everything all the time, you’re probably going to limit the innovation of your solutions and the enthusiasm of your team members.

So, OK. We’ll encourage different opinions and perspectives. Our team will be better.

Not so fast.

You might get broader thinking, better ideas.

Or, you might wind up with pre-judgments, limited discussion, pissed-off team members. And crappy outcomes.

Pre-Judgment is the problem

HBR recently published this research on the wisdom of crowds. I was struck by this conclusion:

“…team members should reframe how they think about disagreement. Our studies suggest that many people interpret disagreement to mean that someone else is incorrect. With a concerted effort toward intellectual humility, however, this does not have to be the case. For teams, disagreement should be thought of as valuable information.”

Few are going to go into a major decision-making event (team meeting, brainstorming, new business pitch) with a truly open mind. And why should they. If they’ve been invited – or required – to be part of the decision, the fair assumption is that they bring some experience, some expertise that should be leading them toward a conclusion or decision.

But pre-judgement doesn’t mean that anyone who doesn’t share that judgment is wrong. That’s where teams get into trouble.

Rules of Engagement rule

I’ve written about Rules of Engagement before. I keep seeing evidence that too many teams aren’t being explicit about them. And equal evidence in the vital importance of them.

Your Rules of Engagement must include a clearly articulated mechanism for surfacing, discussing, and prioritizing everyone’s going-in opinions. Your team should embrace different perspectives.  Every individual isn’t going to be equally comfortable in talking about ideas that are meant to replace their own. But teams have to encourage such conversations.  Write down the methods for stating your case and debating others.  And write down how the team will ensure the rules will be understood and adhered to. You should be allowed to argue your point of view without shutting down someone else’s.  And the team ought to be driven to select among the best ideas – or combine ideas or build new ones – the get the best results.

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