I like to read books. It's no secret. But I appreciate that not everyone does.
So in November last year when I suggested to our Senior Leadership Team (SLT) that we start a book club, I was delighted and relieved when they agreed.
We're currently reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It's written as a fable, which is a format that the SLT have enjoyed in the past. In my experience books about business can get pretty dry. So when the principles are communicated via a story with real people, and real emotions, it feels relatable.
The author, Patrick Lencioni, outlines five elements that he believes cause teams to perform poorly. The one that stood out to me was fear of conflict.
Fear of conflict
I don't know about you but I don't love conflict. I don't even like it. As a kid I shied away from it. In my professional career I've had to lean into it, despite my sub-conscious doing its best to distance me from it. When I say distance, I really mean RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN.
Since becoming a business owner and MD however, I have a different perspective on conflict. One born from necessity probably. I realised that conflict is inevitable. And that trying to ignore it or hide from it may feel like a short term win but one that in the long term contributes to a weakness. In that I miss out on the opportunity to practice and learn from doing something that's uncomfortable. And it's a weakness that compounds over time.
So when I read fear of conflict it resonated with me.
Lencioni says that a fear of conflict often manifests as a lack of debate in a team. You know those meetings where everyone stays silent even though you know they don't all agree.
One of my goals for this year is to encourage the SLT and wider Yarno teams to respectfully disagree with each more often. I believe one of our biggest risks is that over time we'll lose our individual perspectives and start to think the same based on a desire for harmony i.e. groupthink. As a result we could increase our chances of being blindsided by something, that to an outsider seems obvious. As Charlie Munger likes to say, to a man with only a hammer every problem looks like a nail.
So I see value in people explaining their position on a topic and listening to counter-points. And I've been experimenting with how best to encourage this.
During our recent June SLT offsite, each senior Yarnoer presented for 5 mins on one area that they felt we should focus on in the coming year. To facilitate debate before each presentation we drew a name out of a hat. Whoever was chosen had to play devil's advocate. They had to make a counter-argument to every point that the Yarnoer made in their presentation, whether they genuinely believed it or not. Fun fact: devil's advocate was a formal role in the Catholic Church and was someone who argued against the canonisation (sainthood) of a candidate, looking for flaws in their character and for any holes in the evidence provided.
It was a challenging exercise for some of us that encouraged disagreement and forced us to step outside of our normal thought patterns. I easily found myself strongly defending a position that a few minutes before I'd thought nothing of. And I felt that any ideas that we decided to proceed with had earned their place, after surviving a more rigorous selection process.
Another way I've been experimenting with disagreement is in 1:1s.
Each Yarnoer has a regular 1:1 meeting with their team lead. It's the Yarnoer's meeting and they can talk about whatever they like, in a safe space. They do most of the speaking and the team lead listens.
I thought it's the perfect opportunity to dig in and encourage disagreement. So in my 1:1s this week I asked "What's something you've disagreed with at work recently?"
The two times I asked this question I received two insightful answers that prompted some valuable discussion. Discussion that we wouldn't have had in ordinary conversation.
I plan to continue to ask this question and hope that it signals to the team that they're safe to disagree with me, or anyone else in the team. And that by doing so we'll collectively level up our decision making skills.
Lachy heads up the Product team at Yarno. He's our resident rationalist and ideas man. He also reads way too many books for our liking.
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