Agreeing to Disagree Leads to Better Decisions

Ann All

Most people agree there's no real place for yes men (or women) in forward-thinking organizations. Some folks appear sold on the value of no men (and women).


Last summer IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle wrote about a team at EMC that decided to operate in a somewhat clandestine manner outside the company's usual product development channels. The result? A speedy and smooth process that resulted in a product that "could never have been created at EMC in any other way."


In late 2007, I wrote about the CIO for retailer Kohl's, who believes a little dissent is good for most teams, since it results in a variety of views and a more thorough decision-making process. Former Gartner Fellow Bruce Rogow suggests that disgruntled workers can be a fierce innovation force for many organizations.


The importance of varying viewpoints is reiterated by Harvard Business' John Baldoni, who says that teams with strong oppositional voices make organizations more adaptable and can help clarify the leader's own opinion, sometimes changing his or her mind while other times solidifying it.


Baldoni also offers tips on hiring team members with diversity in mind. They are:


  • Look for folks with character, what Baldoni calls "leadership with a purpose," as well as integrity and virtue.
  • You want team members who can back up their opinions with facts and argue with what's best for shareholders in mind.
  • Look for contrarians interested in making a positive difference, not just in pushing through their opinions.
  • Recruit those with proven track records of success in the face of adversity, such as resource constraints, new competition or organizational change.


A caveat: He cautions managers not to confuse employees opposed to their ideas with those opposed to them. He writes:


The former is a good thing; the latter is a threat. The latter will disrupt the team in order to achieve his personal ambitions at your expense. Such a person will cause more grief than glory - so keep him on a short leash or ask him to find work elsewhere. In any organization, the designated leader must have the final say in strategic decisions, otherwise the organization loses focus and direction.

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