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Up For Debate

Up For Debate

by Angie Ash, Executive Vice President

Imagine the following scenario: You’re in a staff or team meeting, discussing a big project or event. Ideas are thrown on the table. Of course, someone has a very strong opinion about one of the ideas over the other. It’s decision time and everyone agrees with the person who voiced the strong opinion. The meeting concludes and yet, deep down you don’t feel like everyone is happy with the decision. Nobody is saying the contrary, it’s just a feeling you have that nobody wants to argue. Sound familiar?

It turns out, you’re not alone. And, there is evidence that points to the fact that agreeing all the time and agreeing too quickly is not the best decision for a business to make. According to a recent online article in Fast Company, the most effective teams have regular, intense debates. The article goes on to state that agreeing too quickly can impede innovative thinking — that teams actually feel like they’re more effective when they can trade varying perspectives, ideas, and perhaps even come up with a new idea. And that in most cases, the best solutions to a conundrum can be found by challenging each other.

There are caveats (because there are always caveats). One is the delivery of the challenge and another is assigning someone on the team to be the facilitator of the meeting, i.e. the referee, so to speak. Thirdly, and most importantly, in order to have a brainstorming or larger group meeting be effective, there absolutely has to be a level of respect that’s held. This is necessary for the meeting to be productive and to have the team leave the meeting feeling like they accomplished something important and worthy of the time they spent.

Let’s look at two different scenarios and their outcomes. I’ll let you decide which is better!

First scenario: The team is in a brainstorming meeting and one team member is sure they have a perfect idea. It’s discussed, there are a lot of nodding heads, but then another person in the meeting disagrees and challenges the first team member. Of course, the person who thought they had a perfect idea is not happy and what ensues next is accusations, defensive answers, and anybody else who was possibly considering voicing an idea opt-outs after witnessing the meeting mêlée. “I love long, awkward, shouting match meetings that kill morale,” said nobody ever.

Second scenario: The team is in a brainstorming meeting and one team member is sure they have a perfect idea. It’s discussed, there are a lot of nodding heads, but then another person in the meeting disagrees and challenges the position. There are facts and data laid on the table, some clarifying questions asked, a few insights gained, and some new ideas thrown out by usually quieter team members. At the end of the meeting, a decision is made collaboratively and everyone in the meeting supports it.

Are you tired of feeling like the same people contribute to meetings and ultimately come up with the winning idea? The bottom line is if you want to create a team mentality and get your quieter team members to contribute more to meetings, you have to make them feel that there is actually a team present. This can only be had when meetings remain respectful and when there is a willingness to be open-minded to learn something new, gain a fresh perspective, and not “win” or score points. Listening to one another carefully before responding is a way to show respect. Cutting people off mid-sentence is not. Jumping to conclusions is not. Relying on hunches or opinions to make decisions is not. Allowing one person to always dominate the conversation is not.

Encouraging those who you feel may have a great idea to voice it instead of holding it back is a way to build their confidence. Look around the table the next time you’re in a brainstorm. You’ll start to sense who has a thought but is hesitant to contribute. Thank them in front of their peers when they do speak up. Trust me, team members want to feel that the time they spend in meetings is worthwhile, and they’ll be more likely to contribute if they actually feel their ideas will be heard, even if they aren’t the ideas that are ultimately used for an upcoming store marketing promotion.

In summary, adopt these principles and inject them into your next brainstorm—and then the next and the next after that until it becomes common practice. Your results may very well prove it’s better to agree to disagree!

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