A Healthy Debate

The Democratic debate is tonight, and fortunately, I'll be at a hockey game so I will miss the entire thing. It probably won't pull in the ratings that the GOP debates have seen anyway, because the story and characters aren't as compelling. 

Some experts expect it will be a "healthy" debate. There will be no personal attacks,  or trying to cut down the front runner, although one might be tempted to demonstrate some inconsistencies in policy stands. 

My guess is, overall the debate will be boring and therefore a waste of time. To me there is nothing healthy about talking about how quickly you came to support an issue over your opponent. That's not debating. As Americans, we should be experts at debating anything. We constantly debate each other on religion, sexual issues, and who should be in the college football playoffs. There's only one place where we seem to avoid debate or the appearance of conflict; and that place is a team setting at work.

Why is that?

In his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni describes the five areas that disrupt a team from performing at maximum efficiency and effectiveness. It begins with a lack of trust, then builds upon itself with a fear of conflict, then to a lack of commitment, which begets avoidance of accountability till you end up with with a bunch of individuals who are more concerned about their own work then that of the team. 

We see it all the time. Right now somewhere a team is meeting and going through an agenda, and members of that team don't trust each other and are avoiding conflict by holding each other accountable. Not trust, no debate, no accountability, and nothing gets done. 

Trust is something I will delve into at another time, but tonight it's debate night. 

Here are three things in my experience that promote healthy debate in the workplace:

  1. Create and shape an environment which promotes difference of opinion.
  2. Expect differences to be supported by facts.
  3. Reinforce that conflict leads to positive solutions for the team.

I'm sure there are many more ideas that can be helpful. If you begin with these three ideas, everything else can flow from that. 

So debate away with your colleagues. Make sure you have your facts ready. Don't make it personal, either by giving or receiving critical feedback that differs. It won't be boring and it definitely won't be a waste of time.