One of the things every leader--and every team--needs most is people who are willing to give their honest and unvarnished opinion and recommendations. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Why? Because people are often afraid to say things that are contrary to what their boss has said, or that the team supports. And when people are afraid to give their honest opinion, or to propose ideas that buck the status quo, then the organization as a whole will suffer.
Years ago, then-chairman and CEO of Hershey Foods, Richard Zimmerman, created an award he called the Exalted Order of the Extended Neck. The idea behind this award was to encourage people to disagree with the company's leaders. Said Zimmerman at the time, "I wanted to reward people who were willing to buck the system...who were willing to stand the heat for an idea they really believe in."
In their book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, authors Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise explain why leaders should foster constructive disagreement within their teams--and how to do it.
Here are 7 ways you can build confidence and innovation in your teams by fostering constructive disagreement:
1. Emphasize common goals
One of the best ways to get a team to work together is to focus on achieving common goals. Say Barta and Barwise, "Refer back to the common goal when the discussion is going off-track or a fight erupts. End the meetings by reiterating how the team made progress toward the common goal."
2. Focus on current, factual data rather than opinions
When members of a team allow emotion to rule when in heated discussion, then the meeting can spin out of control--killing even the very best ideas. Put emotion and passion aside for just a bit and instead base your discussions on facts and evidence.
3. Explore several possible courses of action
There is rarely only one right solution to any given problem. According to Barta and Barwise, "Don't narrow your team's options too fast; let them explore different routes and ideas to find the best way forward."
4. Create a balanced power structure
Don't allow just one person to dominate a meeting. Spread power--and airtime--widely among everyone who attends.
5. Genuinely listen
To work together constructively, the members of a team must make a point of really listening to one another, and providing frank and honest feedback. And meeting leaders need to know when to redirect or cut off discussion that is going on and on without adding anything new.
6. Help people think bigger
Ask open-ended questions during the course of the meeting, such as "What if...?" or "How would we...?" that cause people to think bigger instead of getting stuck in a narrow frame of reference.
7. Use humor
Adding some humor when the tension that results from disagreement gets high can go a long way to diffuse that tension--making even the most difficult situations easier for everyone to get through.