We know that “constructive conflict” is an important part of effective team decision making. If individuals within a team do not feel comfortable proposing alternative ideas to one another then the first idea suggested might be approved or, maybe worse, whatever idea the boss suggests will be adopted. Many authors, including Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team), point out the importance of team trust which can then lead to healthy conflict.
An interesting article about this, “Your Team Members Need to Disagree More, Here is How To Help Them,” recently appeared in FAST COMPANY in which they were reporting on a new book by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton, The Best Teams Win (Note: I have not read this yet). In the article, they talk about how Mark Beck, CEO of JELD-WEN, a global window and door manufacturer, helps his teams have healthy debates. He uses six questions that he will throw out to his team to encourage a positive team discussion:
1. That’s a good thought. Could you walk us through the process you went through to reach that conclusion?
2. What rules should we be breaking here?
3. What’s our biggest risk in this, and what’s our fallback position?’
4. What if we did nothing at all–what would happen then?
5. Are we missing or forgetting anything?
6. Aside from earning us a profit, how would this decision change lives and make the world a better place?
Often I coach leaders that they need to role model constructive conflict with their teams – which includes making sure people are respectful with one another. I think that these questions are excellent for doing that. I would add one more, which is to specifically call on people who have not voiced a viewpoint: “Billy Bob and Sally Mae – we need your thoughts on this issue. What do you think?” Some of the quietest people have the greatest insights.
Use some of these questions the next time you have a team meeting to encourage a more robust discussion of the topic and see how it works. And remember, you can ask these questions whether you are the “formal” leader of the meeting or not. Leadership is about taking responsibility for making a difference, not about position.