Some time ago, I read a great book by Patrick Lencioni – “Death by meeting”. Among a dozen fresh remarks on meetings, one caught my attention. The author suggests that a constructive meeting is one arranged around conflict.

It should deploy new topics and involve emotions and the participants attention – like a good film. Otherwise you got another boring block in your schedule giving participants nothing more than time to drink coffee together. Or to have a nap :-) Sound familiar?

It was 2 years ago when I read that book. This summer I found another great book. This time on thinking outside the box – “Originals” by Adam Grant. One of the chapters is about group thinking and how to avoid it.
Group thinking can be extremely difficult. It’s a situation where everybody starts to believe they have found the best and only solution. The only way.

Remember: there is ALWAYS another way :-) Not always optimal, but finding bad and good sides to each possibility allows you to avoid leaving out the second best solution.

One of the examples given in the book was the great fiasco of the US government during a secret CIA operation – later called “Playa Giron” or better known as the “Bay of Pigs Invasion”. The USA tried to abolish Fidel Castro’s rule, supporting Cuban expatriates. I won’t go into historical details, it would better for you to read about it on Wikipedia or in “Originals”. But long story short: the decision to execute the operation was made after a long series of meetings. Many intelligent, well informed people agreed the plan.

What history showed us thereafter, was that there were in fact different views between key decision makers. But somehow hadn’t been voiced.

In the meetings surrounding the topic, everybody started thinking the same way. And they started group thinking by being afraid of voicing their fears. In human nature there is something that prevents most of us from standing in front of a tank and putting flowers into the barrel.

Unless you have a process for that!

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Embracing constructive conflict is great for healthy organisations. We at Divante got used to testing each idea by attacking it from every angle.

In order to achieve this, we always try to divide the participants of the meeting into at least to two groups. One tries to find positive solutions / agree on something. The other group – guess what? They try to kill the idea :)

So simple! It works best when people REALLY agree with the opinion they are fighting for. People intuitively feel when somebody is only playing, don’t even try such games, it won’t work.

Constructive conflict opens minds and what’s most important, it involves emotions. Emotions are one of the greatest motivators (if you haven’t read “Thinking fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman, please do).

Constructive conflict should be moderated to some extent. In order to avoid crossing the line between attacking problems vs. attacking real people. When organising the discussion you should consider the following practice tips:

  • give space for each person to present his or her view, don’t interrupt or judge the answer immediately,
  • never let anybody voice any personal or offensive comments,
  • in such discussions there is no hierarchy, no more or less important voices – to treat each dispute equally is fundamental,
  • you can use the 5 why’s rule – searching for root causes in the best ideas,
  • if you see any disputes flaring up within the discussion, do not close the meeting before everything is clarified. What’s in the meeting stays in the meeting rule.

Conflicts are designed to unleash the greatest from people. Significant breakthroughs from academy innovations to businesses weren’t started during nice, shallow discussions.

Read also: One thing I’ve learned working with Enterprises. The hard way!