How to Create a Culture of Constructive Debate

How to Create a Culture of Constructive Debate
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Leaders Need to Create a Culture of Constructive Debate to Get Aligned
We steadfastly believe in the power of organizational alignment. Alignment occurs when every part of the organization is working to implement the “intentions” of the business strategy in a way that makes sense to the business AND to the people.

Our organizational alignment research found that highly aligned companies not only grow revenue 58% faster and are 72% more profitable, but they also outperform unaligned organizations at these rates:

  • Customer Retention 2.23-to-1
  • Customer Satisfaction 3.2-to-1
  • Leadership Effectiveness 8.71-to-1
  • Employee Engagement 16.8-to-1

Strategic Alignment vs. Strategic Agreement
But strategic alignment does not mean that all stakeholders must agree.

Reaching 100% agreement is not only difficult but also not very realistic nor very healthy for the future of an organization. If you insist on agreement, you risk sacrificing honest communication, candid feedback, intellectual courage, and leadership accountability

The consequences? Less innovation, loss of top talent, ineffective decision making, decreased performance, and increased workplace politics.

Rather, healthy conflict is fundamental to a healthy decision making culture and core to a team’s being able to explore alternative solutions and reach its full potential.

How to Create a Culture of Constructive Debate
Unfortunately, when we assess organizational culture at our clients, the majority do not have the climate of trust and openness required to perform at their peak.  Leaders are instrumental in promoting a culture of healthy debate in which employees can speak truth to power as well as to each other. Here are three ways leaders can support open communication and thoughtful disagreement:

  1. Make Constructive Debate and Truth a Cornerstone Value of the Organization
    Why not make it explicit? Incorporate constructive debate into your corporate values.  Example behavioral anchors would include areas like upholding and seeking the truth, respect for diverse opinions, and the importance of honest and open debate.

    Once defined, include constructive debate expectations within your performance management process to create team norms.
  2. Model the Practice in Everyday Actions
    When leaders, high performers, and senior managers demonstrate the value of open communication, employees will follow their lead. This means that leaders must be willing to own up to their mistakes, change their minds in the face of better data, and encourage differing opinions — especially when the stakes are high.

    Better decisions are made when you have considered various options, questioned assumptions, and openly debated alternatives.
  3. Make Productive Disagreement the Norm
    Every team decision should be subject to discussions that encourage diverse opinions, questioning, and out-of-the box thinking. Many companies establish debate-friendly rules of engagement or create red teams to avoid group think and ensure that contrary views are aired openly and respectfully.

    Are you creating the environment for people to challenge and reflect upon various solutions and then commit to an agreed-upon path?

The Bottom Line
High performing teams support an atmosphere where constructive debate is welcomed.  First establish trust followed by healthy conflict; then you can reap the benefits of true commitment and organizational alignment.

To learn more about how to create a culture of constructive debate, download 29 Ways to Build and Maintain Trust as a Leader

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