I don’t like naysayers. Consistently negative people bring me down. And yet, I still appreciate a good contrarian. This is why I appreciated the recent Harvard Business Review article, “If Your Team Agrees on Everything, Working Together is Pointless.”

The article is focused on how different opinions are important in collaborations. But it’s more than just collaborations. It’s true for almost everything that we do. None of us knows the answers to everything. Our different experiences mean that we have a different lens through which we view the world. Some of us are book smart and can spout out impressive statistics. Others of us are “street smart” and can share what we’ve learned from our various experiences. Collectively, we constitute a smarter team, regardless of what kind of “collaborative” project on which we may be focused – a work project, winning a game of touch football, or playing Trivial Pursuit.

To keep us focused on work, I will share the three steps that the author suggests to take for teams that are working together:

  • Discuss the different roles in the team and highlight what each role brings to the conversation.
  • Use a personality or style assessment tool to highlight differences in what people are paying attention to.
  • Set ground rules around dissension.

These steps are helpful, but I would add another one: when I am facilitating a conversation and place people in small groups, I will sometimes assign a “contrarian.” That person’s responsibility is to continually ask, “Why?” and push back on the other group members. This helps to avoid “group think” and provides space for the participants to think about the problem and/or the work differently. It also comfortably opens up space for there to be disagreement and so it is expected. Participants feel safe to push back on one another and know that no harm is meant. And, as a group, you will get further together in achieving your goal.

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