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Conflict and Innovation

How much should we agree? How much should we disagree?

I have been reading Kim Scott's  book 

I plucked it from maginative's 

list of book suggestions.  I was drawn to it because like many people I struggle with managing conflict, and I assumed that this book would address that idea. It does do that, and the book is about much, much more than that as well. It is well worth the read.  When talking about managing conflict Kim Scott sums up her philosophy: 

“When bosses are too invested in everyone getting along they also fail to encourage the people on their team to criticize one another other for fear of sowing discord. They create the kind of work environment where being "nice" is prioritized at the expense of critiquing and therefore improving actual performance.”

My immediate question :  

  • How does critiquing and disagreeing improve actual performance?

It is hard to quantify in numbers the value of disagreement (or agreement).  You end up looking at more abstract ideas like the culture of a team,  the way people work together in either of these scenarios, the satisfaction that team members derive from working in either of the two scenarios etc.

In her article Why We Should Be Disagreeing More at Work in the Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo outlines a number of ways that critiquing and disagreeing might improve a team's performance. She talks about the following:

  • teams that manage divergent ideas are able to consider multiple eventualities, and therefore can mitigate risks better.
  • it can be uncomfortable, but working with and considering the ideas of others allows you to gain experience and perspective, and to learn and grow.
  • Working through conflict as a team improves relationships.
  • The job place becomes a more predictable and fruitful place, because conflict and disagreement is on the surface, and you are all practiced at dealing with it. It does not become buried in resentment etc.
  • The workplace becomes more inclusive.  Everyone gets to contribute.  Kim Scott has some great anecdotes about Larry Page's philosophy at Google. He is more confortable when someone disagrees with him than when they agree with him.

I find all of this very interesting and exciting.  But a doubt continues to nag at me.  Because all of these benefits can not just occur simply because people disagree. In almost all of my conversations about how the different ways that teams can work and leadership can thrive, it comes down to culture.  So my next big question is, how can we cultivate this culture in a leadership team, and ultimately in a whole organization?  That will be for my next post.