Why Leadership Teams Need Healthy Disagreement

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Much has been written about team building and the importance of being a cohesive team in creating and maintaining a successful organization. The research team at RHR International has even confirmed the value of teamwork in relation to specific team performance.

Often, when people hear “cohesive” and “strong teamwork”, they presume that manifests as consensus in approach or high harmony. At the enterprise level, though, we see something different. In fact, the RHR research shows that at the highest levels, a leadership team’s ability to have healthy disagreement and manage conflicting tensions is most predictive of top team performance.

In our work with teams, we have also anecdotally found this to be true. Leadership teams function much more effectively, make better decisions, and spark innovation when they can entertain various perspectives with healthy debate. It doesn’t mean that all team members must finally agree, but rather at the end of the day, viewpoints have been heard and vetted. To that end, these teams are highly effective at “mining for conflict” if they feel that a contrary view or opinion is held but not being put forth.

In order to have a healthy vs. debilitating disagreement, make an effort to see the customer’s point of view and keep it central in the conversation to ensure that what is best for the company vs. what is best for a specific team member is guiding the discussion. Be sure to also hold team members accountable for innovation and new ideas.

To increase the level of effectiveness in your teams, reflect on the actions, along with the interactions, within your meetings and projects. Are you always hearing affirmation of your ideas, or are dissenting viewpoints being offered? Are all viewpoints being heard, or are there some that need to be drawn out? Are you hearing enough input to truly sharpen ideas or simply to execute them?

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Your answers will provide insight into whether or not you are tapping into all possibilities. To improve, the best place to start is to set the tone and expectation that all views are not only welcome, but also vital. Then take steps to ensure all perspectives and opportunities are being offered. For it is through the views and actions of your team that you will create the strongest results.