Seek Dissent, Not Consensus
We spend a lot of time and energy trying to create consensus…with customers, employees, partners, etc. But consensus does not always create the best decisions. In fact, sometimes it results in big mistakes.
The most successful managers actively seek out dissent. They realize that people often withhold unpopular viewpoints, and that decisions will be better if all perspectives are on the table.
This article is based on the research of one of my Harvard professors, Amy Edmondson, who has spent decades analyzing team decision making. Thank you Professor Edmondson!
The Problem: People Don’t Always Speak Up
Have you ever had a situation where something went wrong, and you wish someone had spoken up sooner? A big reason why this happens is that it’s often not “cool” to share conflicting viewpoints. There’s a lot of unspoken pressure to be a “team player” and to not “rock the boat.”
Especially vulnerable to this pressure are people who are lower in the hierarchy, or newer to the organization. They often choose not to speak up because they’re not sure of themselves, and they’d rather not incur the group’s wrath if they’re wrong.
This reluctance to speak up resulted in the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion in 2003. A junior NASA engineer had information suggesting the shuttle had incurred serious damage. However, he wasn’t 100% sure, and he was too scared to confront the mission leader, who was always stressed and in a hurry.
The Solution: You Must Seek Out Dissent
As the leader, it’s your job to draw out conflicting viewpoints. This is summed up in a great quote from Alfred P. Sloan, CEO of General Motors during the 1930s-1950s:
Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision… Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.
Here are your four steps to proactively seek out dissent and make better decisions.
Share Your Thoughts
What has been your experience with consensus, and with dissent? What techniques do you use to arrive at the best decisions? Let me know by posting below…especially if you disagree with me! 😉
For further reading, check out the article “Encouraging Dissent in Decision-Making” in the Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge blog. For a deep dive, I recommend Professor Edmondson’s book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.