Team Building: Healthy Debates versus Dysfunctional Arguments

Strong management teams fiercely debate options, challenge each other’s thinking, and find the optimum approaches hidden in the grey area between both sides of tough issues. That takes trust, emotional intelligence, and courage.

Removng the Moose on the TableI am currently coaching a couple of lower performing executive groups struggling to “up their game” and become strong leadership teams. One recent executive group exhibited these — all too common — behaviors:

  •  Things were often left unsaid at their meetings and disagreements went underground.
  • Complaining, criticizing, and talking about each outside of the meetings and behind other executive’s backs.
  • Difficult feedback or problems one executive was having with another were often not given directly and openly to that person.
  • Disagreements became arguments with disrespectful or angry undertones and condescending editorial comments.
  • A few of the most vocal executives’ hogged airtime, dominated discussions, and lectured the others.
  • Lack of response or silence was often mistaken as agreement.

To evolve from an executive group to a strong leadership team we all agreed a key component was moving from conflict avoidance and/or dysfunctional arguments to healthy debates. Here’s how we defined the key differences for them:

 Dysfunctional Arguments

  • Not listening before jumping in and cutting others off.
  • “Yeah, but” responses that don’t probe to understand where the other person is coming from or hear their views.
  • Grandstanding, lecturing, boasting, or showcasing personal/departmental achievements as the gold standard others need to achieve.
  • Biting, sarcastic, impatient, or angry tones — often greeted with eye rolling and disengagement.
  • Using absolutes like “always,” “never,” “everyone,” etc., with few shades of grey.
  • Not giving credit or acknowledging accomplishments or progress.
  • Refusing to move from a preset position.
  • Obstinate, contrariness, and constantly playing the devil’s advocate.

 Healthy Debates

  • Focusing on the issue, problem, or behavior, not the person.
  • Guiding the discussion back on track when it wanders or moves off topic.
  • Assuming the other person has good intentions and wants a positive outcome.
  • Acknowledging and naming personal emotions and feelings.
  • Empathy and seeking to understand the other point of view.
  • Anchoring personal and group behaviors to the team or organization’s agreed upon values, ground rules, or norms.
  • Encouraging and supporting everyone to speak up.
  • More questioning and probing and less telling and lecturing.
  • Clarifying by seeking more information and clearing up points of confusion.
  • Reconciling opposing points of view, linking similar ideas, and looking for common ground.
  • Probing contrary points of view if everyone seems to be in agreement too quickly or easily. Are we really in agreement or avoiding conflict?

By fostering more openness and transparency and getting the moose-on-the-table this team is making good progress toward becoming a strong leadership team.

How’s your team doing? Does your team exhibit many of the six common behaviors? Do most of the points on the dysfunctional arguments or the healthy debates lists define your team? What does the rest of your team think?

 

For over 30 years, Jim Clemmer’s practical leadership approaches have been inspiring action and achieving results. He has delivered thousands of keynote presentations, workshops, and management team retreats to hundreds of organizations around the globe moving his audiences from inspiration to application. He’s listed in the World’s Top 30 Most Influential Leadership Gurus based on research with 22,000 global business people, consultants, academics and MBAs. His website is www.JimClemmer.com.

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