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By Anja van den Berg

Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist, says that people shouldn’t confuse politeness with achievement. In a polite culture, people withhold disagreements and criticism. The measure of a team’s achievement hinges on the psychological safety they experience to speak their minds.

We often consider ourselves lucky if we are on a team with little conflict, says Sabina Nawaz, a global CEO coach. “When a team works together for a long time, they find a rhythm of collaborating and they fall into regular patterns of behaviour, minimising disagreements.”

However, this habitual way of working can limit the team’s performance and halt the generation of breakthrough ideas over time.

If your team’s interactions are becoming predictable or static, it might be time to stir things up. Here is how to create productive tension through diversity and debate to stimulate different ideas:

  • Explicitly get your team’s buy-in to create productive tension

Just as boiling water alters its state from liquid to gas, a team’s dynamic can also take on a new form when an agent of change is introduced. However, creating productive tension can get risky if you do not have your team’s buy-in. Be explicit about the reason you are raising the heat so your team does not feel threatened.

You could say, “If our purpose is to double our numbers this year, the thinking that leads us to our current figures is unlikely to transform our results. Let us change the way we are interacting and brainstorming ideas.”

When reminding yourself and others about the purpose, the focus stays on what the group is trying to achieve and it cuts out hurt feelings and drama.

  • Call out default conduct and patterns of behaviour

Observe the implied rules of behaviour in your meetings. You will probably notice a specific pattern: who opens the conversation, the reactions to particular individuals, who interrupts whom, and when.

Call out patterns with specific data points, such as, “In the last 30 minutes, whenever someone from the production group has spoken, they have been interrupted by an engineer.” Another example could be, “I have noticed that each time someone brings up the schedule delay, someone else immediately offers an explanation, but no one offers a solution.”

By illuminating the data and the patterns at play, you help the group check assumptions, break out of their ruts, and increase creativity.

  • Invite multiple interpretations

Invite team members to discuss their views about the reason behind specific team dynamics.  “Often our first interpretation — and the action we take based upon it — comes from the narrow-angle of the view afforded to us by where we sit in the organisation or our particular agenda,” says Nawaz. Inter-departmental misunderstandings and conflict frequently lurk in restricted interpretations. These narratives involve an us-versus-them plot in which “us” are the wronged party. When colleagues listen to each other, their various understandings may reveal a very different set of assumptions instead of ill intent.  Exposing different perceptions broadens everyone’s understanding of the underlying problem. With a more comprehensive diagnosis, the team can build a robust solution.

 

Sources:

Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/11/how-to-foster-healthy-disagreement-in-your-meetings

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