9 reasons to foster debate in team meetings

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y team has been working through the book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown. Subtitled, “How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,” it deals primarily with two kinds of leaders: diminishers (those whose leadership suppresses the team’s intelligence) and multipliers (those whose leadership makes team members smarter).

Chapter five of Multipliers deals with leveraging the human capital in an organization or team by fostering debate. Wiseman and McKeown write:

Our research has shown that Diminishers tend to make decisions solo or with a small inner circle. As a result, they not only underutilize the intelligence around them, but they also leave the organization spinning instead of executing. Multipliers make decisions by first engaging people in debate–not only to achieve sound decisions, but also to develop collective intelligence and to ready their organizations to execute.

The concept of teams debating is not new territory. The ability to engage in honest debate is critical for team effectiveness as Patrick Lencioni demonstrated in his superb book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.


Image Credit: lynerobichaud

As we read through this chapter in Multiplers, I asked the team to come up with reasons why debate in the decision making process is superior to a leader saying, “This is how it will be, it’s up to you to get on board.” They came up with these nine reasons leaders should foster debate in team meetings.

1. You get more ideas. Not all ideas are great, but the more ideas you have the better the odds of getting great ones.

2. No idea gets rubber stamped. Leaders who diminish intelligence always look for and expect their ideas to be rubber stamped by the team. Automatic approval. Fostering debate renders this nearly impossible.

3. A debate format precludes individual team members from having to have the right answer. Every contribution can be appreciated without being the right answer. The freedom to suggest, compliment and criticize or reject is freeing.

4. Debate provokes good, even if not the perfect answers. Which is okay, because…

5. Good ideas becomes better as they are tweaked. As the best ideas bubble to the top, tweaking makes them even stronger.

6. It leads to greater buy-in. When people are vested, they are more supportive. Debate, rather than declaration, vests team members in the process and the goal.

7. The leader must defend his/her own ideas. This separates the multiplier from the diminisher. Good leaders may bring an idea to the table, may even have to lay ground rules from higher-ups, but always allows that idea to stand or fall on its own merit.

8. Even if a member’s specific idea is not chosen, the ability to debate all ideas does in fact contribute to the final idea. This is more than just buy-in. It is the knowledge that all ideas have contributed to the final product. The team would not have advanced without each input.

9. Debate weeds out the lesser ideas. This allows the leader to forego the need to say, “Y’know, that’s really a terrible idea.” In the process of debate the team will push bad ideas off the board.

What are some other advantages you would add? Credit to Jonathan Howe and Chris Martin for their contributions to the debate.

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Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • martyduren

    Feel free to add your own reasons below in the comments!