When does the argument become unhealthy?

My work experience in technology and marketing has always been characterized by very collaborative workplaces where healthy disagreement is the norm. But even in the flattest organization eventually everyone has to fall in line behind leadership and drive toward getting the work done.

But how do you balance productive disagreement such that it doesn’t slide toward groupthink (where no one dissents, ever) or the quagmire of constant debate (where every little issue is argued)? I like what Alexander Muse has to say about it in his blog (via Ronald Reagan):

…this 80% rule is very true in running a business as well. You can’t expect your employees to agree with 100% of your decisions. But your employees also realize that they will never agree with 100% of their company’s decisions. At about the 80% rule, with enough transparency around decision-making to make the missing 20% at least seem rational, you have a winning formula.

I like the idea of 80%, and as a manager I think you have to watch this carefully and tune it when you see it getting out of balance. If a team is starting to rubber stamp things, throw someone with a different perspective, background, or personality into the mix who can bring some debate into the team. If debate is raging all of the time, pull individuals aside and try to get everyone oriented more toward the end goal. If despite your best efforts someone is constantly throwing the team off balance one way or the other, you may need to help them find a new team (or eventually, and sometimes unfortunately, a new employer).

UPDATE: Pounding this out early this morning I forgot to link to Matt Blumberg, who wrote the quote above and who Muse linked to in his post. So if I have it right now, this post is via Muse via Blumberg via Reagan. Thank you and good night.

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