In today’s fast-paced business world, it’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of making decisions quickly. However, research shows that for high-stakes business decisions, the top predictor of a quality decision is the quality of the discussions and debate preceding it.
Unfortunately, healthy debate has become a lost art in our culture, leaving leaders with the dilemma of how to create a culture where healthy debate is embraced in order to maximize the quality of their decisions.
As a leader, how can you resolve this dilemma and create a culture where healthy debate is embraced in order to maximize the quality of your decisions? Consider these three principles:
One way to encourage healthy conflict and debate is to help your team embrace it. Debating different ideas inherently involves cognitive conflict, which can be uncomfortable for some people. Most people prefer to avoid conflict, especially in a professional setting, which can lead to groupthink or a lack of variety in ideas.
However, it is important to help your team see this conflict as a constructive means to sharpen the decision, and to encourage team members to share their honest opinions and candid perspectives. According to Lauren Johnson in her Harvard Business Review article “How to Encourage Healthy Conflict,” nearly half of employees actively seek ways to avoid controversy, highlighting the need for leaders to create a culture where healthy debate is encouraged.
Creating an atmosphere of psychological safety is essential for healthy debate. A Google study called Project Aristotle concluded that the most important trait of a highly-effective team is an atmosphere of psychological safety where team members feel comfortable speaking up without fear of embarrassment or punishment. This kind of environment allows for open communication, collaboration, and creativity.
To foster this kind of environment, it’s important to actively seek out others’ opinions and respect the value of their perspectives. It is also critical to keep an open mind and demonstrate willingness to be persuaded and influenced yourself. As Aristotle famously said: “The mark of an educated mind is to be able to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s mind at the same time.” By creating an atmosphere where everyone feels safe enough to share their honest perspectives, teams can unlock their full potential by making better decisions leading to greater success.
Making a decision after a rigorous debate can be difficult. But once your decision is made, it’s important to thank your team and explain your “why.” Doing this will show them that you value their courage and perspectives that helped you reach the decision.
It also gives them a chance to understand why you chose the course of action that you did. Even if they don’t agree with the decision, explaining your “why” will help them get behind it and they’ll be more likely to contribute to future debates. Saying thank you and explaining your “why” are two simple steps that can go a long way in encouraging team members to continue debating issues in the future.
Creating a culture where healthy debate is embraced is essential for any team to make effective decisions. To achieve this, there are three key things that leaders can focus on. First, encourage your team to embrace constructive conflict. Second, create an atmosphere of psychological safety where team members feel comfortable expressing their opinions without judgment or retribution. Finally, once a decision is made, say “thank you” and explain your “why” to show your team that you value their input and encourage them to continue debating issues in the future. By following these steps, leaders can create a culture that fosters collaboration, innovation, and ultimately, better decision-making, which will help your team reach your full potential.