How do you get the best ideas from your teams?

Recently I was in two meetings on the same day. In the first we discussed a challenging problem and had come to a consensus about the only real way forward. Just as I was getting ready to wrap up the meeting, when one person said, “no I don’t think that is the right approach.” Let’s call him Adam.

Adam then really tore apart our plan. It was almost annoying as we had pretty much finished. What followed was a much more challenging discussion about what the right approach was. The decision affects national infrastructure. We needed to be challenged and to enable our thinking to be pushed.

At the end of the discussion, I ensured everyone felt heard by summarising each person’s position back to them and asking them if I had accurately captured their view. I’ve found this technique really useful. It allows each person to feel heard and when you inevitably have not understood their view, they can correct you. After everyone agreed their own position was understood (i.e., we had full information from the group), we then agreed an overall decision. We left feeling more of a team despite the very healthy conflict, or rather because of it. We could trust each other more.

I used to think the way to “win” an argument was to only listen to my opinion and undermine other people’s. Instead, to win is to embrace what you don’t know yet. I love losing an argument because it means I have learnt something, so become a better person. 

It helps to update how I see my role in an argument. I used to see myself as a boxer in a ring but now it’s more like I’m trying to solve a puzzle and I can only do that by unlocking everyone around me. I don’t have the truth, I am trying to find it. 

Adam said something brilliant, “I might not agree with this now, but once we have made a decision, I will back it completely.” We can’t see into the future. We will only know if we made the right decision in September. The point is, we made the best decision we could with the information we had but only after trying to tear apart all the available decisions.

But I said I was in two meetings recently. I’ll leave you to guess what type the other meeting was, but the contrast was stark and made me appreciate the first.

Healthy conflict is the key to better decision making.

How do you ensure healthy conflict in your teams?

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