Can dissent in a team be good ?

My new hypothesis on what really delivers inspiring results from teams is that a lot more rests on how leaders respond to their people than in how people work.

There is often the dangerous narrative that organizations are failing simply because the people are not productive, or that they are not engaged.  While this can be true in some organizations, time and time again however the organizations that seem to succeed show that how leaders get their teams to perform is less about the people’s abilities and more about how leadership inspires  the team to deliver. The problem for leadership that does not work often lies in hubris and the danger of a single narrative.

We love the story of the super star executive that comes into an organization and turns it around with their overpowering personality, and knowledge. Whipping up the entire organization into a well- oiled execution machine. But this is rarely the case. In fact superstar egos are the main cause of hubris in  an organization. Self-confidence due to past successes, that causes you to be blind to your weaknesses or flank. Hubris means ‘excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance’.

Hubris causes leaders to be blinded and seduced by their success.  They stop seeking new information, listening, and learning. The praise of those who surround them, makes them believe that they alone know what is best, to the detriment of those who disagree with their “vision”. Often described as rigid and authoritative, they are no longer receptive to feedback from subordinates.

Hubris prevents disagreements with the leadership that may potentially save an organization.  This is where the danger of a single narrative metaphor for me comes in. There is enough room at the table for everyone’s ideas and inputs.

In this TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie, clarifies it so clearly. It’s about what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative: Her point was that each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. In short, defining an experience based on a single account gives us incomplete, potentially damaging understandings of other people.

Today’s leadership needs to have a place for dissent, and internal conflict management. For a team to commit to a path, they need to weigh in, and be heard. They need to disagree respectfully for the good of the organization. It’s good to have a spanner thrown at your work sometimes. Nobody likes a villain right?  But have you considered though the role of a villain in any one of your favorite books, or movies and how they were critical towards molding the hero’s character?

We may call them critics, some detractors or naysayers, but for good or bad, there is a necessary role in life and business for those who do not see the world in the same way that we do.  Businesses that don’t have a view of their blind spots, end up the way of Kodak and Nokia.

According to this HBR article on how management teams can have good fights, the alternative to conflict is not usually agreement but rather apathy and disengagement, which open the doors to a primary cause of major corporate debacles: groupthink!