At a meeting yesterday in San Francisco, the leader of a not-for-profit organization was encouraging his managers to define the norms for their team meetings. One of the ideas discussed was to make sure that the meetings minimized conflict. As their consultant, I intervened by discussing the difference between cognitive and emotional conflict (as discussed in my last few blogs). I encouraged them to create norms that encouraged cognitive conflict. Listed below are a few ideas we discussed:
1. Encourage diversity. I asked the group to look around and assess the diversity of the room. You guessed it, mostly white males. I reminded them that diversity is not limited to ethnicity or gender. That it includes age, backgrounds, culture, opinions, educational and occupational experience, industry expertise... Diversity improves decision-making if team members recognize that different perspectives and open minds directed towards a common purpose produce better results. A single point of view is no way to see the world.
2. Meet regularly. Team members that know each other understand the various positions people take on certain issues. Thus, they know how to present their ideas in ways that are more compelling and acceptable to others. Frequent interaction builds the confidence that disagreements and dissent will not damage the relationship.
3. Support role variety. Ask team members to play various roles at your meetings, such as the devil's advocate, timer, stay-on-task master, creative visionary, customer advocate, or other stakeholder’s mindset... This helps everyone see all sides of an issue.
4. Treat apathy. If disagreements are resolved to quickly, you often end up with “groupthink" and subtle discontent. Leaders often mistake disengagement for consensus. So, if you see people jump to agreement too quickly, ask probing questions to make sure they are not just shutting down.
These are a few keys to help your team make better decisions by having cognitive conflict. How can you adapt them to your environment?