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TEAM BUILDING

Want Your Team to Work Together? Start a Fight.

The more you encourage healthy debate among your top managers, the better off your company will be.

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To me, the most productive culture for a business is one that allows for "constructive disagreement." Your team needs to be able to raise issues, debate them, and resolve them.

Get Your Debate on

Most people in a company interpret dynamics from their perspective alone. For sales people that means business decisions reverberate through a crowd of customer demands. Product leads see a decision colored by product simplicity and experience. Technologists compute the complexity of a given challenge.

The fact that you see the world through your own lens is very limiting. And, left unchallenged, each and every member of your leadership team would likely make different decisions tilting the company in favor of his or her respective responsibilities. The best companies, however, excel in all dimensions of the business: sales, customer service, product, tech, and beyond. 

In order to make decisions that reflect all of the various perspectives, stakeholders of each dimension of the business must be comfortable to contribute their perspective to all decisions.

Optimize for Tension

The best way to set up a culture of constructive disagreement is to structure a relatively flat hierarchy. 

I mean more than who-reports-to-whom. I mean who is given a voice at leadership team meetings. I mean weaving as many voices as possible into the key processes at the company.

To this end, I recommend you set up your structure so that all team leads:

1.    Report directly to you

2.    Participate on a daily leadership call as peers

3.    Are part of product decision making and development, customer support process, and marketing

Here's why a structure like this matters. Imagine an organization in which the head of product was subordinate in every way to the CTO (reporting to the CTO, not having a voice in the leadership meetings, and having a limited role in decision-making processes). 

Would the product lead consistently engage in a healthy debate about his or her needs with his or her boss, the CTO? Probably not as frequently. 

Would the demands of the tech team trump product consistently? Probably more often than if they were peers. 

And, over time, this company would have a tech-bias and a less-than-ideal product.

This structure also helps with ad hoc decisions that don't have a clear "owner." When you, the CEO, are faced with a question, perhaps an obscure legal issue, you can ask the team of peers, each with very different perspectives, to debate it out. Collectively this group will be far more capable of making a sound decision than you, or any individual team lead, might be able to in isolation.

Keep It Constructive

A construtive debate is one that builds toward a conclusion; all parties demonstrate mutual respect, and keep relationships in tact. An argument, by contrast, doesn't necessarily get resolved; it can get heated and leave interpersonal relationships as road kill.

As CEO, you're responsible for leveling the playing field between stakeholders to ensure that they debate, and for acting as referee. This means not only helping the team navigate each individual decision, but also facilitating conversations about how the team members talk to each other. Don't let emotional scar tissue collect within any stakeholder.

Last updated: Jan 18, 2013




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