As a leadership coach, one of the main things I do is help CEOs build out their leadership roles and train them on how to work as a high-performance decision-making team. It's one of the most important jobs of the top leader and one that has a huge impact on the company's results.
Ironically, one of the main challenges I run into with existing leadership teams is not that they are fighting all of the time. It's the opposite. They are not fighting enough. Often what I find is that everyone is going along the general direction and there is no critical debate or disagreement. My job at that point is to increase the constructive conflict on the team.
Here are some key concepts and ideas that I use to train teams to engage in richer, more productive conversations so they can make better decisions and deliver better results.
Good debate is key to better decisions.
High-performance teams engage in heated debate. The key is they debate issues, not attack other people. They know that by rigorously challenging each other they will push their ideas into new and better solutions. The goal is to advance the conversation, not tear the other person down.
Getting your ideas heard.
Members of great teams know they need to create space and time for everyone to be heard. Sometimes this means slowing down and giving time for someone to organize their thoughts. It might also mean coaxing comments out of people who might otherwise be silent. And if they themselves haven't spoken up, they rise to the occasion and speak up and be heard, even if what they have to say is contradictory or unpopular to the rest of the group.
Knowing when to push.
Strong teams know when an issue is important and significant and when they need to push themselves to further discussion. They also know when the issue just doesn't matter and they can expedite their work. Too often teams waste time and belabor an issue for too long, while other times they speed over a critical item and fail to address the issue properly only to have it come back in a worse state.
Giving in without giving up.
There are times when an individual on a team disagrees with the direction others are taking. Once you feel like you've been heard, but out voted, consider moving forward with the group's decision. The key here is that you need to embrace the decision as your own. It's important for everyone on the team to give full support, even if you had misgivings.
There are times when you are willing to go along with the group, but your concerns are strong enough that you want your reservations to be noted for the record. You are agreeing to the group's direction and to supporting its decision, but you want to be sure that people understand that it's not what you would have voted for. Use this sparingly, but it can be helpful to move forward with a plan.
When to abstain.
In rare cases, your connection to the issue puts you in a difficult or biased position. If you feel your involvement in a discussion would unfairly influence the direction or outcome, you may need to abstain from the discussion of an issue. In some cases you may need to excuse yourself from being involved if you feel that even your presence would have an undesirable impact. I suggest this to CEOs at times when people might not say things to them in the room.
Throwing in the towel.
If you find yourself always at odds and never embracing the team's direction, then you might just be on the wrong team. Teams make decisions based on purpose and core values and if you don't fully embrace and share those ideals, you'll never be in sync with your teammates. While not an easy decision, it's an important one to make for long-term happiness and success for both you and them.
While being on a great team can create a strong and a highly engaging bond, it's important to keep in mind that the goal of a team is not complete coherence. A team who's always agreeing and never seems to have difficulty reaching a decision is mostly likely underperforming. A strong team knows they need to fully engage in constructive conflict to get to the best decisions and outcomes.